Avalanche defying the odds with playoff goaltending

Thanks to their 4-3 victory in Game 1 of overtime in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Colorado Avalanche are just three wins away from a championship that has seemed inevitable for this core for several years.

It’s been a totally dominant run up to that point, with them winning 13-2 in their first 15 playoff games, with only a single loss coming in regulation. They were absolute machines and overwhelmed every opponent they faced with their speed, talent, skill and global defense. And they did so with some pretty serious injuries en route to defender Samuel Girard and center Nazem Kadri.

What makes their postseason dominance even more impressive is that they got there with a pretty significant Achilles’ heel in their own net.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

It didn’t matter. Still.

Starting goaltender Darcy Kümper has missed a handful of games this postseason through injury and when he’s played he hasn’t exactly been great. Backup Pavel Francouz has brought a similar level of play to the Avalanche when in action. Neither of them had to steal a game at this point, as Colorado has scored at least four goals in 11 of its 15 playoff games and won eight of those by multiple goals. It’s a totally dominant team-wide effort.

As a duo, the Avalanche goalies managed just a 0.899 percent save percentage in their first 15 playoff games. That’s a lot less than you’d expect from a Stanley Cup finalist. Typically, goaltender is one of the driving forces behind teams going far in the playoffs. It’s the ultimate X-Factor game changer, series changer, and season changer. It can cover up a lot of flaws when it’s great, and it can make you think you have flaws that you don’t really have when it’s bad. Teams that score less than .900 goalies in the playoffs tend to have very short runs and fail to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Just remember, in the salary cap era, no Stanley Cup finalist finished the playoffs with a save percentage lower than .907 before this season. Only three of them were in the playoffs under .910 (the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins, the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, and the 2006-07 Ottawa Senators).

Again, not only is the Avalanche below all of these teams, it is below .900 overall.

It’s a testament to how good and dominant the rest of the team is that they were able to get through that.

All numbers show it.

[Related: Valeri Nichushkin making star turn for Avalanche in Stanley Cup Playoffs]

Colorado’s offense is sensational and grabs most of the headlines, but it’s the defense that makes this team such a strong team. Even without Girard, the Avalanche Blue Line is full of superstars (Cale Makar), quiet stars (Devon Toews), rising stars (Bowen Byram), and just plain old, rock-solid veterans (Erik Johnson, Josh Manson). By pretty much every defensive metric, the Avalanche has the best defensive team in hockey this postseason.

In 5v5 play, they only allow 2.09 expected goals per 60 minutes. Only one other team this postseason (Minnesota) was under 2.20.

They only allow 2.34 expected goals per 60 minutes in all situations, by far the best value in the league. Next lowest team in the playoffs: Pittsburgh with 2.91 expected goals per 60 minutes in all situations.

But only a handful of teams have noticed a larger gap in their actual goals conceded versus their expected goals conceded.

Entering the second game of the series on Saturday, Colorado is giving up .46 goals more than expected this postseason. The only teams that saw a worse difference were Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Nashville. All three teams lost in the first round, and two of them (Pittsburgh and Nashville) played without their starting goalies. Of the eight teams that saw the largest negative difference between actual goals and expected goals, six lost in the first round, while another (Calgary) lost in the second round in just five games. Then there’s Colorado, which is giving up almost half a goal more than expected per game and still rolling everyone over.

You can even look at Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals as an example.

[Related: Avalanche beat Lightning in Game 1 overtime thriller]

Colorado was by far the better team. In 5 vs 5 game. For special teams. Statistically, it’s a territorially one-sided game as Colorado held a 3.59 lead to 1.71 expected goals in all situations. Still, the game went into overtime where it was just a shot away from going the other way.

It is truly a fascinating situation that is unfolding. Colorado is so good, it didn’t need its goalie to be great. Above all, it only takes Kuemper and/or Francouz not to lose the game. So far it has been like this.

But Tampa Bay is the best team Colorado has faced so far this postseason and the first to have a goaltender at the other end of the ice capable of stealing a few games and potentially stopping the Avalanche offense .

At some point, the Avalanche may need their goalies to be great in this series. Whether or not they can do that could mean the difference between a championship and a very long offseason.

[Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference]

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 1:0)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – June 18th: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 3 – June 20th: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 4 – June 22nd: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 5 – June 24th: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26th: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28th: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Write him a message phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Avalanche defies the odds with playoff goalies originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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