The Colorado Avalanche are waiting. And waiting for a Stanley Cup Finals opponent hasn’t treated those favorably in returning from mini-vacations in the past. We’re finishing up the 35th NHL postseason in which first-round games are contested as a best of seven, starting in 1987 and featured every year except the canceled 2005 season, because of the league’s lockout. That’s the fairest way to judge fatigue mixed with unexpected rest.
Colorado eliminated the Oilers on Monday, sweeping Connor McDavid’s squad out of the postseason to win the Western Conference. There are two more guaranteed games to determine the East’s winner, with Tampa Bay evening the series against the Rangers at two games apiece on Tuesday. The series is guaranteed to continue through June 11, but with both teams holding home ice-advantage, we’re destined for a Game 7 on June 14.
Eight days will be the minimum time the Avalanche will wait from Artturi Lehkonen’s overtime goal to puck drop of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, with a heavy chance of it being longer. Since the NHL’s latest playoff format expansion, 11 days is the record between winning the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl or Prince of Wales Trophy and starting a championship series. That record is held by both the 2019 Bruins and 2003 Ducks, both of whom lost in the Finals.
Of the nine NHL teams who waited longer than a week from conference championship to Finals, only a pair also lifted the Stanley Cup, the 1993 Canaidens and 2012 Kings. That’s seven losers. Four long-awaiting teams to fall in the Stanley Cup did so in Game 7. None were swept. The only team to wait eight or more days to begin the Stanley Cup Finals then lose four straight to exit the postseason were the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural 2018 season. Vegas bested the Capitals in Game 1 of the Finals, then lost the next four in succession.
We’ve already seen a version of the extended-break theory in this year’s playoffs. After the Lightning swept the Panthers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they had a nine-day layoff waiting for the Rangers to outlast Carolina. New York continued playing every other day and won the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tampa then finally got its mojo back to even the series.
The first team to clinch a spot in the Finals has always waited at least four days for its chance to retake the ice. Of the six teams to return to the ice four wins from the Stanley Cup quickest, four won the trophy, with the outliers being the 1992 Blackhawks and last year’s runners-up of Montreal.
Colorado has plenty of firepower and evidenced by its two playoff sweeps and dismantling of the Blues, overlooking its Stanley Cup chances because of history would be foolish. The Avalanche also may be on their way to the NHL record of waiting to start the final series of the season if Game 7 between New York and Tampa occurs.
Injuries to Nazem Kadri, Samuel Girard, and Darcy Kuemper haven’t derailed the team which should’ve been viewed as the Stanley Cup favorites from the jump. Florida was obviously flawed. The Avalanche’s biggest enemy in reaching the Finals may not be an opponent. It’s being too lax until their final opponent of the season is known.
First team to clinch Stanley Cup Final berth, wait for first Finals game
2021: Montreal Canadiens, four days
2020: Dallas Stars, five days
2019: Boston Bruins, 11 days
2018: Vegas Golden Knights, eight days
2017: Nashville Predators, seven days
2016: San Jose Sharks, five days
2015: Tampa Bay Lightning, five days
2014: New York Rangers, six days
2013: Boston Bruins, five days
2012: Los Angeles Kings, eight days
2011: Vancouver Canucks, eight days
2010: Chicago Blackhawks, six days
2009: Pittsburgh Penguins, four days
2008: Pittsburgh Penguins, six days
2007: Ottawa Senators, nine days
2006: Edmonton Oilers, nine days
2005: *** Lockout ***
2004: Calgary Flames, six days
2003: Anaheim Ducks, 11 days
2002: Carolina Hurricanes, seven days
2001: Colorado Avalanche, five days
2000: New Jersey Devils, four days
1999: Buffalo Sabres, eight days
1998: Washington Capitals, five days
1997: Philadelphia Flyers, six days
1996: Colorado Avalanche, six days
1995: Detroit Red Wings, six days
1994: Vancouver Canucks, seven days
1993: Montreal Canadiens, eight days
1992: Chicago Blackhawks, four days
1991: Minnesota North Stars, five days
1990: Boston Bruins, six days
1989: Calgary Flames, four days
1988: Edmonton Oilers, seven days
1987: Edmonton Oilers, four days