DENVER (KXRM) — The Colorado Avalanche extended its win streak to nine games Saturday with a 7-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, clinching the Western Conference’s top seed in the playoffs in the process.
DNVR Sports’ Jesse Montano (mahn-TAHN-yoh) chatted with FOX21’s Tyler Bouldin about the incredible play of the Avs thus far. The transcript of the discussion can be found below the video.
TYLER BOULDIN (FOX21): The Avalanche scored seven times against a team that has allowed the fewest amount of goals in the league — the Carolina Hurricanes. The Avs’ league-best 55th victory also helped them clinch the top seed in Western Conference. I could go on, but we’ll bring in Jesse Montano to assist us in gawking at just how good this Avalanche team has been this season. Jesse, it’s hard to pin one of these 55 wins as the statement victory but they took down the Canes without not just one of their top-six forwards, but two.
JESSE MONTANO (DNVR): You make a great point there. It’s hard to pin down any win and say, ‘Wow, that win is more impressive than any of the others but I think you make a great point. They’re without Nazem Kadri, they’re without Gabe Landeskog. Their D core is finally starting to look like we hoped it could in the preseason. I think we’ve seen maybe one game with the roster fully put together for what we thought it would be. You made a great point. They’re knocking off top teams like Carolina, and (Colorado) doesn’t even have their full complement of weapons yet. Really exciting stuff.
BOULDIN (FOX21): This is no fluke. They’ve been doing it all year long. Nathan Mackinnon is doing his thing, leading Colorado with 84 points despite missing 16 games. Then you have Cale Makar, who if it wasn’t for Roman Josi on Nashville, would be the runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy. Where would this team be without Mackinnon and Makar?
MONTANO (DNVR): It’s funny. I was just having this conversation with someone a couple weeks ago. If you look around the league at a team like the Vegas Golden Knights, obviously they have big injury issues and when you play that game of ‘Where would the Avs be,’ what’s funny, Tyler, is they’d still be a really good team. They’d still be a playoff team. They’re that deep. But, I mean, look, Nathan Mackinnon and Cale Makar, these are bonafide superstars. I mean, top-five players in the league. You could easily make that argument. I still think this is a really good team. They have so much depth. You remove those guys off and it’s such a different look. It’s funny. I remember when I was younger I’d be so envious of fan bases like Pittsburgh and Washington like, ‘Wow, they get to see Ovechkin and Crosby up close and personal every day,’ and now here we are with Cale Makar, Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen every single day. Like I said, bonafide superstars and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t put both Mackinnon and Makar in the top-five right now.
BOULDIN (FOX21): The Avs surely want the President’s Trophy for the second straight year. If they can finish the final two weeks with seven straight wins, they’d tie the league record for most victories in a regular season (62). Even if they don’t get that, would you consider this the best Avalanche team in franchise history?
MONTANO (DNVR): I would. I was telling someone this earlier this season. Obviously the playoffs are going to ultimately be what determines this team’s legacy, by how much they’re able to accomplish in the postseason, but you even think back to that 2000-01 team littered with Hall of Famers like Rob Blake, Ray Bourque, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, as good as that team was, as great as that team was, I really do feel that this current version of the Avs has the potential to be an even greater team. I’ve been watching the Avs for my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of Avs games, I’ve seen a lot of great Avs teams, and I’ve seen a lot of bad Avs teams, but I think this is the deepest group that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if we seen a team that plays with this kind of consistency, brings it every night to the point we were making off the top of this, with or without guys in the lineup. They had injury problems all year but have just kept chugging along. They haven’t really seemed to slow down whether the injuries have been on the back end, up front, I think they went a whole week without (goaltenders) Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz. I just don’t know if we’ve ever seen a team buy into their systems the way this team has, be as consistent, and that shows that they’ve already broken the franchise record for most home wins and most wins in a season. We’ve still got seven games to go.
BOULDIN (FOX21): So, talking about this depth, who would you say is the biggest unsung hero right now? Obviously, locally, people know the names Andre Burakovsky and Devon Toews, but is there somebody else outside those two names, or is it one of them, that you think is the most underrated piece to this team?
MONTANO (DNVR): I think Burakovsky fits into that role of underrated. He’s a goal-scorer, right? He’s got the great shot, his playstyle can be a little flashy. That’s when you notice him most. It’s easy to pick apart a night when he doesn’t score a goal but he does a lot of really good little things for this team. He’s having one of the best years of his career, so he’s definitely a guy, but I’m going to give you two maybe off-the-board ones here, and people might laugh when I say this, but one is J.T. Compher up front for me, and then another who I think has just been a great surprise for them on the back-end is Jack Johnson. Again, we know the guys in the top six, we know the top four defenseman Bowen Byram and Sam Girard along with Makar and Toews. Johnson, though, I think has exceeded expectations for what the Avs were hoping to get out of him this year. He’s become a really solid, steady presence on that bottom pairing. Even with injuries this year, he’s kind of flexed up the lineup a bit and has been everything they’ve wanted him to be. Then, yeah, Compher quietly has 16 goals on the year. He’s gone through some stretches where he’s been pretty quiet. Yeah, 16 goals on the year, he’s been a big part of what little success they had in those first 10 games and he helped keep them afloat. Go back over the last couple years and Compher has scored some big goals in playoff games. While his production isn’t quite up there as some of the other guys, one, he’s quietly approaching 20 goals, and two, that is exactly the kind of depth piece that gets you past a team like Vegas in the later rounds where they’re shutting down the top guys and you need a guy like Compher to come through. He’s done it in the past. So, those two, like I said, kind of off-the-board picks, but I think Kuemper is another one you can throw into that that doesn’t get quite enough credit because of how good this team is. To me, Kuemper should absolutely be a Vezina finalist. I don’t know if he’ll win it, Igor Shesterkin has been phenomenal this year for the New York Rangers, but I fully expect Kuemper to be in that conversation come the end of the year.
BOULDIN (FOX21): In all likelihood, the Avs’ second-round opponent would be the Blues or Wild, assuming they take care of business like we all expect them to do in the first round. With that being said, the team they’d have to take down in round one is still up in the air. It could be the Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, or it could even be the Los Angeles Kings if things got really funky. Who do you think the Avalanche match up better against in the first round, and who would be their toughest draw?
MONTANO (DNVR): This team, the way that it’s built and the way they’re playing, any of those teams — Nashville, Dallas, Los Angeles — I think they’re good teams and they’ve got good pieces to win a game, but I don’t think they have the depth to match with the Avs. That second line for the Avs when fully healthy, I mean, there are 25 other teams that would happily take that as a first line, and that just trickles down. I don’t know if any of those three teams have the depth to last with Colorado. As well as they could play, it may could actually be like the series the Avs had against Nashville a few years ago, the Avalanche played well, played really inspired, but just ran out of steam. Vegas would obviously be the one — I think would be a great matchup with two really-good teams. Vegas has had a really funky year with injuries, changing faces and all that stuff. I think that one would be the easy one to peg as the toughest matchup, but any of those other three teams, while they’re good teams that made the playoffs for a reason, I just don’t think they’ve got the depth to match up with the Avs. Any of those three, I think if you’re the Avs, you say, ‘Bring them on.’