In the building where the Avalanche relentlessly endeavored to play this game for three encouraging months, and in the final chapter of a draining series in which that optimism disappeared with any sense of rhythm, home ice felt as eerie as a haunted house one last time.
The Avalanche, losers of only seven regulation games in Denver during their 2021-22 Stanley Cup season, sputtered to an abrupt end in their championship defense with a 2-1 Game 7 loss to the Seattle Kraken on Sunday night at Ball Arena.
Colorado lost three of four home games in the first-round series after clawing back from 14 points down in the Central Division to ensure two rounds of home ice advantage on the final day of the regular season.
The Kraken scored the first goal in all seven games, an obstacle that finally became too steep to overcome at the end of a tiresome series — though the Avalanche briefly thought they had climbed a mountainous 2-0 deficit. Nathan MacKinnon buried a shot three minutes into the third period to seemingly resuscitate the season. It might have, if Artturi Lehkonen had not been offside on his zone entry away from the puck 17 seconds earlier.
This is the first time since 2017-18 the Avs have been eliminated before the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the sixth consecutive Game 7 the franchise has lost — a streak that dates back to 2002.
The theme of the series was the source of the champions’ downfall. MacKinnon registered his 100th career playoff point. Mikko Rantanen scored his seventh goal of the series. The top line pelted Philipp Grubauer. But the former Avalanche goalie played the game of his life, saving 33 of 34 shots while Jared Bednar’s other three lines struggled to generate similar chances. Oliver Bjorkstrand, a Seattle third-liner, scored twice in a deflating second period.
When he ringed his second goal off the far post on a Kraken rush for a 2-0 lead, the echo of the puck on cold iron was the loudest noise in a stadium filled with 18,000 fans who started the night waving pom-poms as injured captain Gabriel Landeskog egged them on.
Landeskog was out all season. Valeri Nichushkin was out after Game 2. Josh Manson missed the last two games. Three of the roster’s most physical checking players were checked out by the end of the series, so depth suffered.
Still, Colorado was the better team in Game 7, if not the series. The Avs just didn’t take advantage of an especially potent first period. At the intermission, they led shots on goal 16-6, shot attempts 32-14, scoring chances 12-5 and faceoffs 11-8. The only category they didn’t lead was goals. The Kraken capitalized.
Bjorkstrand flung a puck from the corner of the boards toward the net front, a mathematically impossible shot to land directly in the net. But his corner kick flicked up off Alex Newhook’s stick then off Ben Meyers’ torso and in. It was precisely the kind of puck luck Colorado needed but couldn’t seem to find. MacKinnon and Rantanen both grazed iron later in the second period. When the shots were on target, Grubauer was a one-man defense. His series save percentage at Ball Arena was .949.
Then Rantanen’s pants deflected a MacKinnon one-timer with 26.9 seconds left in the middle period to plant hope at 2-1. That last-ditch goal was shades of Rantanen’s game-tying tally with 19 seconds remaining in the first period of Game 6. It turned the tide in an eventual dominant victory while facing elimination.
This time, all it led to was a crushing disallowed goal, and more shades of the Avalanche’s past — when Landeskog was offside on an apparent game-tying goal against San Jose in a 2019 Game 7.It may be the two best words in professional sports, but Game 7 has not been kind to the Colorado Avalanche. Dating back to the franchise’s arrival in Denver, the Avs are 4-9 in deciding Game 7s, including six straight losses after falling to the Seattle Kraken on Sunday. Here’s a look at each of Colorado’s Game 7s: