This is fun. The NBA and NHL playoffs offer a unique brand of suspense and excitement unlike anything else. Anyone who has tuned in to playoff action involving the Nuggets or Avalanche knows exactly what I mean.
The Nuggets got off to the worst of all possible starts when the cagy, playoff-tested San Antonio Spurs came to Denver and snuck out of town with a win in game one of a seven-game series.
That gave the Spurs a decided advantage, putting the Nuggets in the uncomfortable position of having to win at least one game on the road in order to advance to the next round. The Nuggets got the next game at home, went to San Antonio and lost game three, and it became obvious at that point that it would take an incredible effort to return the favor and win on the opposing team’s court.
In game four, however, the Nuggets got just the type of effort they needed. Down by 10-12 points most of the way through the first half, Denver hung in the contest thanks to a super-human performance from Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” hit shots from beyond the three-point line, at the rim, and all points in between. His passing was also terrific, setting up teammates with timely feeds in all the right places and all the right times.
The entire team seemed to catch fire in the second half, as a number of Nuggets began hitting shot after shot from three-point range. By midway through the fourth period, the Spurs home crowd had been completely taken out of the game, and the lead grew to more than 13 points down the stretch.
Jokic knocked down 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while teammate Jamal Murray added 24 points. Some of Murray’s shots provided ideal highlight material, as he dropped shots that did not look humanly possible at times.
In summary, the 117-103 victory was the type of win that most casual observers, the line-setters in Las Vegas and certainly anyone associated with the Spurs simply would not have expected. In fact, probably the only people who actually thought the Nuggets could win by 14 points were the Nuggets themselves. And even the Nuggets were probably pleasantly surprised.
Game five in Denver, which was absolutely pivotal, took place Tuesday night but results were not available by press time.
Then, there’s the Avalanche
The Calgary Flames showed all the signs of being the most dominant team in the Western Conference, and perhaps the entire NHL, throughout the regular season. The most important statistic in all of sports, in my opinion, is point differential. If a team scores 250 points in a season and opponents score 175, for example, that team has a positive points differential of 75. The Flames entered the first round of the Stanley Cup Series against the Avalanche with a regular season point differential of 100. The Avs entered the playoffs with a winning record, but a much less impressive points differential of 14.
Well, so much for statistics. The Avs dropped the first game to the Flames in Calgary, which everyone probably expected. Then the Avs promptly rolled off four consecutive wins to ice the series, which probably nobody expected. Just like that, a giant was slain and an underdog darling was born in the form of the Avs.
The Avs scored 17 goals in the five games, and game five was a laugher as the Avs proved to be much faster, deeper, and just as physical as the Flames. Avs goaltender Phillip Grubauer was nothing short of brilliant, giving up just 11 goals while logging 164 saves in the series. Many of those saves were spectacular, as Grubauer blocked shots in desperation with his glove hand, his stick, his leg pads, his non-glove hand, the back of his legs, his chest, and on occasion, his facemask.
They say that Stanley Cup hockey often comes down to which team has the hottest goalie when the playoffs roll around. By that standard of measurement, the tale of the tape currently favors our own Colorado Avalanche. If Grubauer continues to “stand on his head,” as they say, and the speedy front lines of the Avs continue to skate circles around their opponents, this could get very interesting as the playoffs progress.
The Avs will face either the San Jose Sharks or the Las Vegas Golden Knights in round two. Game seven of that series took place Tuesday night but results were not available by press time.