The Franchise Best Series comes to you to dive into the all-time best single season for every organization. This, of course, includes post-season results. Join us for a look back at some of the most memorable moments in each franchise’s history. Here is the the Colorado Avalanche‘s best season.
Colorado Avalanche 2000-01 Seaon
For a team with only 22 seasons under their belt, the Colorado Avalanche possess quite a rich history. Granted, you could trace them back much further, through the 1979-80 season when including their years as the Quebec Nordiques (and 1972-73 counting their start in the WHA). Either way, their best years came in Colorado. In fact, they came immediately in Colorado, as they won their first cup in the teams inaugural season in Denver.
Despite that fast start, the franchise’s absolute best season came five years later in 2000-01.
An Overview: Hockey Comes to Colorado with a Bang
The late 90’s and early 2000’s Colorado Avalanche were an absolute powerhouse. They won their division eight consecutive times, advanced to the Western Conference Finals in six of those eight years, and won the Stanley Cup twice.
One of the greatest rivalries in hockey history came out of this period too, as the Detroit Red Wings became Colorado’s ultimate foe. The two teams clashed almost annually in the playoffs, and more often than not whoever won that series went on to win the Stanley Cup. All questions regarding whether hockey could work in Colorado were quickly answered, as the team’s success transformed the state into a hub for hockey.
So now, let’s dissect everything that went into that nearly perfect year in Colorado back at the turn of the millennium.
Summer of 2000: Clear Mission to Win the Cup
As was usual at the time, the Colorado Avalanche were in the hunt for the Cup through the 1999-2000 season. To try and put them over the hump, General manager Pierre Lacroix made a major blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins. The trade landed the Avs one of the best defenseman in NHL history in Ray Bourque, as well as Dave Andreychuk. In return for these two hall-of-famers? Lacroix only lost Brian Rolston, two prospects, and a first-round pick.
Unfortunately, the team fell one win short of the Stanley Cup Finals as they dropped Game Seven of the Conference Finals against the Dallas Stars. They did not re-sign Andreychuk either after he struggled to fit in on an already star-studded offence. Simultaneously, Bourque re-upped on a one-year contract; he scored 14 points in 14 games with the Avs after the acquisition and both sides wanted a full year together. At 40 years old, it became very clear that this was a one-year shot at getting the career-Bruins-star a Stanley Cup before his retirement.
Then at the draft, the Avalanche traded away defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Nolan Pratt and draft picks. The move clearly aimed to free-up more permanent ice time for Bourque.
Regular Season: Avalanche Win President’s Trophy
The Colorado Avalanche absolutely went off in 2000-01. Statistically, the Avalanche accumulated more points that year than in any other, with a whopping 118. Unsurprisingly, that earned them the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team in the regular season.
The team’s success came as a result of some huge performances from the team’s star-studded lineup. Captain Joe Sakic notched 54 goals, 64 assists and 114 points to lead the team in all categories. Polarizing forward Peter Forsberg scored 89 points despite being limited to 73 games. Milan Hejduk scored 41 goals too, while Bourque posted 59 points from the blueline. Youngster Alex Tanguay grew leaps and bounds, following up his rookie season with 77 points in 2000-01. Patrick Roy, arguably the best goaltender of all-time, went 40-13-7 with a .913 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. He even set the NHL win record in October of that season, which at the time was his 448th win, passing Terry Sawchuk for first place on the all-time wins list.
When I say, “best Avalanche players of all-time”, these are the names that come to mind; and they were all on the same roster that year.
All-Star Game and Trade Deadline
Fittingly, the NHL All-Star Game happened to be held in Denver that year too. Not only were fans spoiled with the best team in the league, but got to host and experience all the league’s best come together for that event on February 4th. Five Avs made the all-star rosters: Bourque, Forsberg, Sakic, Hejduk, and Roy.
Just three weeks later, Lacroix completed a trade to acquire yet another all-star in defenseman Rob Blake from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forward Adam Deadmarsh and two future 1st round picks (other players went each way too). An already-elite team got even better, as the Avalanche finished the year 14-4-3 after acquiring Blake.
2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The quest for the Cup ensued with a special motivator for the Avs, as Bourque wanted to get just one championship before ending his storied career. Despite having more points than any other defenseman in league history, the Stanley Cup evaded him for over 20 years in Boston. The Colorado Avalanche set forth to win him one, dubbing the journey “Mission 16W” after the 16 wins necessary to win four series and therefore the Cup.
Conference Quarterfinals – Round 1
To kick off the postseason, Colorado matched up against the 8th seed Vancouver Canucks. The series didn’t last long either, with the Avs dispatching of their opponent in four games: a clean sweep.
Vancouver hadn’t made playoffs since 1995-96, and they didn’t last long against Colorado. They outshot the Canucks in all four games, and Roy only had to face 93 shots in the first round. Sakic and Chris Drury each potted four goals in the series.
Four down, twelve to go.
Conference Semifinals – Round 2
The Los Angeles Kings proved to be a much more formidable foe than the Canucks. A Game 1 victory for LA on the road surprised Colorado. However, they clapped back with three straight victories to put a stranglehold on the series.
The Kings would not go down without a fight, though. In both games five and six, LA squeaked out 1-0 victories (the latter coming in double overtime, no less). Suddenly, a team full of scorers couldn’t buy a goal.
When Blake scored the first goal in Game 7 with a minute and a half remaining in the first, it was the team’s first goal in 181:44 of playing time. Their last goal had come from Jon Klemm, the game-winner in Game 4, at the 10-minute mark of the third period. The Kings matched Blake’s goal early in the second, but it seems that goal from Blake reignited the scoring touch they lost for over three full games-worth of time. Colorado scored four times in the third period to win 5-1 and take the series.
Conference Finals – Round 3
Unfortunately, the Avs kicked off the third round with what seemed to be a massive setback. After their Game 7 win over the Kings, Peter Forsberg had pains in his stomach and was rushed to the hospital. Forsberg, who at the time ranked first in playoff scoring with 14 points in 11 games, went through emergency surgery because his spleen had ruptured. He missed the remainder of playoffs, a difficult player to lose to say the least.
Their third-round series against the St. Louis Blues lasted just five games before the Avs advanced, but it undoubtedly was a closer series than meets the eye. After Games 1 and 2, which the Colorado Avalanche won 4-1 and 4-2 respectively, every remaining game went to overtime. A double overtime victory for the Blues in Game 3 brought the series to 2-1 in favour of Colorado.
Stephane Yelle scored his first goal of the playoffs in Game 4’s overtime period. The hero in Game 5 was none other than the captain, as Joe Sakic ended the series just 30 seconds into extra time with a power play goal. The Avs won the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl as a result and advanced to the Cup Finals.
Stanley Cup Finals – Round 4
Entering the fourth round, Colorado held a fantastic 12-4 record. Their opponent, the New Jersey Devils, came in 12-6. Both teams had finished first in their respective conferences during the regular season. Both had a world-class goaltender, as Martin Brodeur and Roy held similar esteem around the league. They both had been regularly qualifying for the playoffs and making deep runs, and the Devils looked to win back-to-back Cups after winning it all in 1999-2000. This was truly a clash of titans.
Game 1 went entirely in Colorado’s favour, with a 5-0 thrashing of the defending champs. Then Game 2 ended with a 2-1 win for the Devils in what would be the lowest score of the series (but not by much). Colorado took Game 3, the first in New Jersey, but followed it with their worst game of the playoffs. In Game 4 Colorado mustered only 12 shots in net, yet still managed to score twice. The Devils, on the other hand, peppered Roy with 35 shots. Despite a great game from the Avs netminder, they beat him three times, enough to seal the win. New Jersey followed that with a win in Game 5 too, the first time one of the teams won back-to-back games in the series to that point.
Uphill Battle to Claim the Cup
Now on the ropes, the Avs knew they’d have to win Game 6 on the road to force a Game 7 at home. They relished under the pressure too, and shut out the Devils 4-0 much like they’d done in Game 1. That earned Roy his fourth shutout of the postseason, matching the four he earned during the regular season.
Game 7 in Denver, in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,007, lived up to expectations. Alex Tanguay scored in the first half of the first period, and again five minutes into the second. Super Joe added a powerplay goal (his 13th of the playoffs) for insurance just a minute later, giving them a comfortable three-goal lead before the halfway point in the game. New Jersey did manage to find the net once a few minutes after that, but Roy shut the door the rest of the way and finished with 25 saves. The Avs won their second Stanley Cup by a score of 3-1.
A Franchise-Best Year Produced the Best Moment in Sports
All the stars aligned through that entire season for the Colorado Avalanche. They got the best defenseman in history, Ray Bourque, to come back for one more year and then delivered on their promise. They hosted the All-Star Game and had five guys qualify from their team. Then, they acquired a sixth all-star in Blake and won the President’s Trophy. Somehow, they overcame Forsberg’s season-ending illness and even fought their way back into the Stanley Cup Finals against the defending champions.
That team had five Hall of Famers on it. One of them, Patrick Roy, won his NHL-record 3rd Conn Smythe that season for his outstanding playoff performance. Another, Joe Sakic, took home the Hart, Lady Byng, and Lester B. Pearson Awards. The team won nearly everything they could win.
All that, but what stays in the hearts and minds of everyone about the 2000-01 season came in the moment Gary Bettman awarded the Cup to Joe Sakic.
The Best Hand-off In Sports History
Sakic did a lot that season. He led the team in all categories, won all those awards, and then led in playoff scoring. He’d earned the Cup with and for his team. But what sets him apart from others, and exemplifies exactly what it means to be a “good captain”, is his humbleness and selflessness.
Never has that been so clear than when he took the Cup from Bettman.
Every captain in NHL history, both before and after Sakic in 2001, takes and lifts the Cup first on behalf of his team. Not that year, though. Sakic took the trophy, and called up Ray Bourque. Rather than enjoy it himself, Sakic gestured for his teammate, the 40 year old veteran winning his first ever championship, to come raise it first.
Bourque happily received the Cup, tears swelling in his eyes, from a smiling Sakic. He threw the trophy overhead and let out a cry that everyone could feel had been burning inside for decades. The raw emotion, that feeling of “finally, I did it” that burst from him, it’ll give you chills every time you see it. The fans erupted with him, both happiness for the man who achieved the ultimate accomplishment after a lifetime of trying to no avail, and thankfulness to that same man for having faith and returning to help their team win it all. His son, probably in his early teens, stood behind him bawling in tears of joy. Sitting at home that night, most of us fans felt and shed those same tears.
The Year that Cemented the Avalanche in Colorado Sports History
Hockey was taken to another level in Colorado thanks to that team, thanks to those heroes. Kids and fans alike fell in love with the story, as no author could have written it better. Growing up in Colorado watching those giants win transformed people, the sports world in the state, and permanently placed the Avalanche in sports history.
There will never be another Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque, Peter Forsberg or Patrick Roy, but there is hope that another, new championship-level group can get them back to the promised land. That season, though, will forever be a notch above the rest. They were the original Avs, the best-of-the-best too, and so many of them are immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame. You just can’t beat a year like that.
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