Forward Nate MacKinnon has admitted his relief at being able to overcome the second-round hump with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche, 21/20 to win the Stanley Cup in 2021/22, scored with 5.6 seconds remaining to win Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round and progress past the St. Louis Blues on Friday.
The victory was a welcome one for 26-year-old MacKinnon who despite helping the Avalanche break numerous franchise records over the past three seasons, has felt the disappointment of three consecutive second-round defeats in the all-important playoffs.
After giving up a 3-0 and 4-3 lead in the final minute of Game 5 at home, past demons may have caught up with the Avalanche heading to St. Louis for Game 6. But, led by MacKinnon's call for them to quickly turn the page, Colorado showed a developed maturity to win and remain the only undefeated team on the road in the playoffs (5-0).
The Avalanche will meet the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final, their first since 2002 and they are 5/13 to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
MacKinnon joint-leads the Avalanche for points in the post-season with 13 (eight goals, five assists) in ten games and is amongst the leading candidates to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
He said to the media: "Obviously the jobs not finished, but that's a great accomplishment for us.
"There have been some dark times. It's nice to get over this [second-round] hump, for sure.
"It definitely felt like we outplayed them this series, just some tough periods on our end, but even tonight, we played a great 60 minutes. We deserved a good bounce there at the end."