Our countdown continues with us unveiling the #11 team of all time – the 2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche.
The early part of the season was very kind to the Avs as the Avs started 9-0-2-0 in their first 11 games. This stretch also included Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy becoming the winningest goalie in NHL history, passing Terry Sawchuk on October 17th, 2000 for his 448th victory. The Avs kept up their scorching hot play through the All Star Break, sitting at a very pretty 32-8-8-1. However, the second half of the season proved to be much more challenging for the Avs. After winning the first three games out of the All Star break to push their record to 35-8-8-1, the Avs stumbled through their next 7 games, going 1-4-1-1 and allowing their arch rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, to creep back into the hunt for #1 in the West. This may have factored in GM Pierre Lacroix’s decision to acquire All Star and Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings. The Avs did eventually find their game in the final 22 games, going 15-4-1-2 which allowed them to clinch the #1 seed in the West and the President’s Trophy. The Avs were going to give Ray Bourque another shot at the Stanley Cup that had eluded him over the course of his 21 seasons.
Statistically, this Avs team was very strong. They were 4th in both goals for (3.29) and goals against (2.34). They had the 3rd best PP in the league at 22.0% and while their penalty kill didn’t rank well (19th), percentage-wise they were not too bad at 82.3%. In today’s NHL, an 82.3% kill rate would put you just outside the top 10. Another positive for this Avs team was that their young guns finally stepped up. Knowing that they would be relied on heavily this year, Alex Tanguay (age 21) and Milan Hejduk (age 24) stepped up in a big way contributing 27 and 41 goals respectively. The Avs got almost a full year out of their $10 million man Peter Forsberg (73 games) and he didn’t disappoint, contributing 27 goals and 89 points. However, anyone that knew the Avs knew that their offense started with Joe Sakic and he had an incredible year. Sakic tallied 54 goals (2nd in the NHL), 118 points, and came away with the Hart Trophy. In total, the Avs had 5 players tally 24 or more goals, giving them one of the deepest attacks in the NHL. The old goat, Raymond Bourque, led the way on the blue line for the Avs as Bourque played an incredible 26:06 a night for the Avs, played 80 of the 82 games, led the Avs blue line in scoring with 59 points, and finished 2nd in Norris Trophy to Nicklas Lidstrom. Bourque was clearly determined to pick up a Stanley Cup in what many felt would be his last opportunity.
The playoffs started and up first for the Avs were the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks were a much more dangerous team than their 36-28-11-7 record indicated. The Canucks were led offensively by their dangerous line of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison. This was definitely seen in the first three games of the series as all three games were decided by 1 goal. Unfortunately for the Canucks, all three games were won by the Avs, and the Avs punched their ticket into the 2nd round by thumping the Canucks 5-1 in Game 4.
In the 2nd round, the Avs got a matchup with the Los Angeles Kings who had just upset the Avs’ arch rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, in the 1st round. The Kings were led by their dangerous duo of Ziggy Palffy and Luc Robitaille up front and those two could light it up. The Kings jumped on the Avs in Game 1 and shocked them, stealing Game 1 in OT, thanks to a powerplay goal from Jaroslav Modry. Game 2 saw the Avs rebound as they got a vintage performance from Roy as he stopped all 20 shots he faced for a 2-0 shutout, his 16th playoff shutout. The Avs took Games 3 and 4 to put the Kings on the brink heading back to Colorado. However, goaltender Felix Potvin was determined not to let his team’s season end so soon. Potvin posted back to back 1-0 shutouts in Games 5 and 6 to push this series to a deciding 7th game. There was a lot of hype leading up to Game 7, but the Avs were going to have none of that. The Avs jumped on the Kings early, as Rob Blake tallied late in the 1st period to put the Avs up. The Kings managed to tie the game at 1 in the second, but the Avs just kept coming and poured it on, taking the game 5-1. However, the Avs received some bad news after the series as it was discovered that their star Peter Forsberg would miss the remainder of the playoffs after his spleen ruptured.
Awaiting the Avs in the Conference Finals were the #4 seed St. Louis Blues. The Blues had a strong regular season and were led by their two snipers up front in Pierre Turgeon and Scott Young and their two stalwarts on defense in Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger. The Blues were also cruising in, having just swept the Avs nemesis from the previous two seasons, the Dallas Stars. However, the Avs were ready for the Blues and jumped on them in the first two games, taking a quick 2-0 lead. However, the fight in the Blues never died even though they were overmatched. The Blues managed to steal game 3 in double OT as Scott Young beat Roy. However, Game 3 really showed the Blues just how hard they were going to have to work to beat this Avs team. The Blues fired 60 shots in Game 3 to the Avs 33, and they still had to go to double overtime just to get the win. However, the Blues did not let that deter them as they pushed Games 4 and 5 to OT. The Avs were too much though, as Stephane Yelle won game 4 just 5 minutes into OT, and Sakic won Game 5 just 30 seconds into OT. The Avs had finally gotten over the hump and Ray Bourque was going to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the Finals, the Avs were matched up against the defending champions, the New Jersey Devils. The Devils had a strong regular season, going 48-19-12-3 for 111 points. They were 1st in goals for, 5th in goals against, and would prove to be the toughest test for the Avs. With 7 guys that scored 20 goals or more, the Devils were the only team that could claim to be deeper offensively than the Avs, so that beleaguered Avs D was going to be tested severely in the Finals. Game 1 turned out to be a laugher as the Avs romped, scoring 5 goals. Patrick Roy posted his 3rd shutout of the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Finals were off and running in the Avs direction. In the first period of game 2, the Devils jumped out to a 2-1 lead and many thought that we would never see the shutdown defense and Hall of Fame goaltending that both teams possessed. However, the Devils tightened up defensively and held on to the 2-1 lead to steal game 2 from the Avs. Heading back to New Jersey with the split they wanted, the Devils were feeling good about themselves. The Avs were not about to let that good feeling last too long as they skated into New Jersey and stole Game 3 right back by a final score of 3-1, with Ray Bourque scoring the game winning goal. Game 4 saw a vintage performance from the New Jersey Devils as they overwhelmed Colorado, allowing just 12 shots on goal, and the Devils took the game by a final score of 3-2. The all important Game 5 took place on Colorado’s ice, but the Devils were the defending Stanley Cup Champions and still possessed the swagger that allowed them to have confidence anywhere. The Devils rolled the Avs in Game 5 as they took the game 4-1. Game 6 was one of those moments where you can sense that either a champion will be born, or a team with talent will crumble. The Avs chose the former, as Patrick Roy put the team on his back, stopping 24 shots for his 4th shutout of the playoffs. The Avs ended up scoring 4 times on their 18 shots against Martin Brodeur to set up the winner-takes-all Game 7. The Avs started Game 7 off right, with Alex Tanguay scoring just 8 minutes into the game. In the 2nd period, Tanguay and Sakic scored to extend the Colorado lead to 3-0 and the Devils were in serious trouble. Petr Sykora did manage to tally for the Devils but it was not enough. Roy stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced to earn the 16th and final victory for the Avs. Despite not having Peter Forsberg for the final two rounds, the Avs got it done. Raymond Bourque finally could lift the Stanley Cup. Joe Sakic added another chapter to his storied career. Patrick Roy added a record-breaking 3rd Conn Smythe trophy. This Avs team had it all from top to bottom and thus they will be remembered as one of the greatest teams of all time.