In the 2001-2002 season, the Colorado Avalanche are fresh off their successful mission 16W to win Ray Bourque his first Stanley Cup but where do they go from here?
When I started this Why Not Us series I wanted to document the lesser-known and talked about seasons in Colorado Avalanche history because the seasons where the Cup wasn’t brought home arent considered fondly. With that in mind, I was hoping that the 2019-2020 season would be the bookend to this time period that we will be exploring in a year by year fashion. I was optimistic for a Stanley Cup title upon the conclusion of this year.
So going forward with this installment of the 2001-2002 season through the 2019-2020 season there will not be a gap in the series because there will be no additional Stanley Cup victories. In the future installments of the series, we will begin seeing the household names of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Patrick Roy begin to fade out of the stories, consequentially some names may reappear, but ultimately we will see the end of the Golden Age of Avalanche hockey and then step into some darker years that lead into the current resurgence we are witnessing today.
The Colorado Avalanche climbed the mountain in 2000-2001 and in one of the most memorable Stanley Cup Finals of the Millenium they conquered the New Jersey Devils in 7 games. The boys in Colorado were able to get Ray Bourque the Stanley Cup trophy that previously eluded him for 22 years of his hall of fame career.
But heading into the 2001-2002 NHL season, the Avalanche would not have that goal in mind now that Bourque retired shortly after the final game of the Stanley Cup. The Colorado Avalanche were optimistic that their roster depth and established veteran, All-Star talent could allow them to repeat their success in 2001-2002.
The Colorado Avalanche looked to open the 2001-2002 season on the road against the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins in the Mellon Arena. The 2001-2002 season for the Pens started extremely rocky with management stating they couldn’t afford the contract of (one of my all-time favorite non-Avs players) Jaromir Jagr. The Penguins never looked the same after the two parties went their separate ways and it was apparent in the opening game against the Avalanche.
After a relatively quiet opening first period, the Avalanche began the scoring with a goal from the left shooting Center, Vaclav Nedorost. Avalanche captain Joe Sakic would follow up with a goal of his own just 8 minutes later taking the Avs into the 3rd period up 2-0. Chris Drury finished the scoring for the Avs with a goal in the 3rd period giving the Avalanche a commanding 3-1 win in the ‘Burgh. Penguins goaltender Johan Hedberg had a very rough opening night letting in 3 goals on the only 20 shots he faced.
The Colorado Avalanche opened the season strong against Pittsburgh but would find themselves with a mediocre record with by the end of the month. Navigating the entire season without the help of Peter Forsberg, the Avalanche would spend the first two months of the season just a few games above .500. The Avalanche would end up finding a groove by December, aided by a 4 game winning streak and two blowout wins against league newcomers Columbus and Minnesota.
Colorado began the month of January with a 22-15-5-0 ( You can check how the win/loss standings are tracked with the previous Why Not Us chronicling the year it was introduced ) but the month of January saw the Avs hitting their stride with a 6 win streak towards the end of the month. Eventually shaking off the rust from the first two months, the Avalanche would end the regular season with a 44-28-7-1 record which would win them the Northwest division and earning them a playoff spot against the Los Angeles Kings.
In what was becoming par for the course, the Colorado Avalanche found themselves back in the postseason for the 7th year in a row. The Avalanche returned to the postseason with fantastic 82 game efforts from “Burnaby” Joe Sakic, Left-Winger Chris Drury, and Defencemen Greg De Vries and Martin Skoula.
Patrick Roy was once again absolutely stellar all year with a .925 save percentage, 32 wins, and a surprising 9 shut outs earning him an All-Star selection. The Avs found their cohesion in the regular season and looked to take that momentum into their playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, with one surprise return up their sleeve. Peter Forsberg, who was injured in the quest for the cup las season, would be making his 2001-2002 debut in the playoffs.
On April, 18th 2002 the Colorado Avalanche took the ice in the Pepsi Center to begin their Western Conference Quarter-Finals Game 1 matchup with the Los Angeles Kings. The Avalanche would be taking the ice with the aid of Peter Forsberg as they got ready for their postseason tilt against the Kings who now had former Avalanche player Adam Deadmarsh.
The series between Colorado and LA ended up going the distance, needing all 7 games to determine who would advance. The Avs took the first two games before LA would take Game 3, Colorado would take Game 4 but then allowed the Kings to steal games 5 and 6. Game 7 ended up being a one-sided affair as Colorado would end up chasing LA goalie Felix Potvin from the net in a 4-0 series-clinching win.
The Colorado Avalanche advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals and found themselves face to face with the San Jose Sharks on May 1st, 2002. The Sharks did not plan on going out easy as they too took Colorado to a full 7 game series. The Avalanche would end up getting shell-shocked in Game 1 by a score of 6-3 proving they would have to rediscover that potent offense from earlier in the year if they planned on advancing.
The Avs would answer back in Game 2 with a bombardment of their own, winning Game 2 by a score of 8-2 with former LA King Rob Blake having a two-goal game. With each team alternating wins throughout the series, when Game 7 arrived it seemed that the offensive motors began to run out of gas. The first period of Game 7 was held scoreless and the second period looked to be a repeat story until Peter Forsberg scored 17:50 seconds into the 2nd frame. That would turn out to be the only goal of the game and good enough to win the Semi-Finals for the Avalanche advancing them into the Western Conference finals against Detroit.
On May 18th, 2002, the Colorado Avalanche faced off against their rival the Detroit Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Avalanche would end up dropping Game 1 to the Wings 5-3 thanks to Darren McCarty‘s hat trick in the 3rd period. The Avs would respond by taking the Wings to overtime in Game 2 and then Chris Drury scoring the game-winner 2 minutes into the extra frame, tying the series at one game apiece.
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The tightly contested series returned to overtime in Game 3 with Detroit coming out victorious with a score of 2-1, also tilting the series in that same fashion 2-1. However, in Game 4 the Avs won convincingly with a score of 3-2, Detroit would have a goal from Brett Hull late in the 3rd period to make the score seem closer than it should have been. In Game 5 the Avalanche would find themselves in yet another overtime with Detroit relying on playoff hero Peter Forsberg who sent the frozen biscuit by Red Wing goalie Dominik Hasek in the 1st OT.
And that my friends are the last we hear of the Avalanche offense in 2001-2002 because in Game 6 and 7 they Avs are shut out in back to back thumpings. On May 31st, 2002 the Red Wings score a touchdown on the Avs 7-0 and send the defending Stanley Cup Champions home defeated, deflated, and demoralized.
This would be the last time we would see the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals, a step that seemed so routine up to this point is a step we haven’t seen in almost 20 years. The Colorado Avalanche will struggle to recover from the fractures incurred from the impact of that Game 7 and we will see those become apparent in future installments of this series.
In the next edition, we will look at the 2002-2003 season which would be the last of Patrick Roy signaling the end of an era. We will also see teams like Minnesota, San Jose, Dallas, Chicago, and Anaheim ( Yes the Ducks) become subjects of contention and derailing our attempts at returning to the finals. In just 8 years from this point, we will see the annual playoff appearances evaporate into multiple years of missing the playoffs.
So buckle up because going forward we are going to explore the emotional decline and then eventual rebirth of the Colorado Avalanche.