With 7:37 remaining in Game Five of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Lars Eller scored what would end up being the championship-winning goal for the Washington Capitals.
But the person who got the secondary assist on that tally, and arguably made it happen, is often not remembered. Andre Burakovsky, in only his fourth-year pro in the NHL, set up Brett Connolly for a one-timer in the right circle. Eller, in the right place at the right, found the uncovered puck just outside of Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads and dunked it home.
Four years later, Burakovsky punched his ticket back to the NHL’s championship series after his new team, the Colorado Avalanche, swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final. And Burkie did so as one of the most dynamic forwards on the Avalanche.
Burakovsky set career highs during the 2021-22 season in goals (22), assists (39), points (61), and shots (149) while skating exclusively on the team’s top two lines. Burakovsky primarily shared the ice with stars like Nazem Kadri (552:16 minutes), Nathan MacKinnon (305:10 mins), and Mikko Rantanen (299:45) at five-on-five.
Despite only being 27, Burakovsky is one of only four Avalanche players who have played for a championship before, joining Darren Helm (DET, 2008 & 2009), Andrew Cogliano (DAL 2020), and Artturi Lehkonen (MTL, 2021). Burakovsky and Helm (2008) are the only Avs players to actually etch their names on the Stanley Cup.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to be back in the final,” Burakovsky said. “I mean it doesn’t happen too often and it doesn’t happen for everyone. I’m really excited to be back, especially with this team. I think we’ve been really successful for the previous years here and I think the progress that we have been going through as a group has been really good.
“I think we just want to write our own story,” he added. “I’m not looking back too much on what we did to be able to win. This is a new group and a new organization. We’re going to begin to write our own story here.”
While Burakovsky hopes to make new memories with the Avs, his past in Washington remains ever-present no matter how much he tries to escape it. As he spoke to the media at Stanley Cup Media Day on Tuesday, Burakovsky sat beside a photo of former teammate Alex Ovechkin hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head.
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Burakovsky was a bottom-six forward on that Capitals team and eventually requested a trade after he could not carve out a spot higher in the lineup. Capital’s GM Brian MacLellan traded Burakovsky to the Avalanche in the summer of 2019 for draft picks. The move was the best thing for Burkie as he’s averaged 21 goals per season with Colorado. In his previous three years with Washington, Burakovsky scored 12 goals three consecutive times.
Wednesday, Burakovsky’s Avalanche will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. The series begins at Denver’s Ball Arena and will likely prove to be a tough task for the Avs. The Lightning have won two straight Stanley Cups and 11 straight postseason series. The Bolts went on that massive tear after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 playoffs and the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final in ’18. The Lightning’s championship core has remained the same with offensive stars in Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos; shutdown defenseman in Victor Hedman; and world-class goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who is looking to win his second straight Conn Smythe trophy.
The Avalanche are -160 favorites to win the Cup despite this. Colorado has swept two of their three series so far in 2022 playoffs and only played in two extra games than they’ve needed to (a six-game, second-round series against St. Louis).
“I think we just have to put the focus on our group,” Burakovsky said. “We’re not going to focus on the outside that we are the favorites or the underdogs or things like that. We here to play our game, find our own success. Not trying to focus too much on the outside on things that we can’t control. We know what things we can do. We showed it previous years and this whole season, especially in the playoff year, that we have what it takes to win. We just have to bring it out in this series, too.
“They have a very deep team,” Burakovsky added. “We can’t focus too much on their guys. If we play our game and shut down their best players, just like we did against Edmonton, we have a good chance here. We’re just focusing on our game on what we can control and our outcome and I think we have a good chance to win. To have some really good core guys, it’s a difference-maker, but we have to play them hard and keep tight on them.”
Burakovsky, who blocked a Darnell Nurse shot with his leg during Game One of the Western Conference Final, played in only two of the Avs’ four games against the Oilers and tallied one assist. Because the Avalanche swept Edmonton though, the team got over a week of rest. Burakovsky now believes he’s nearly 100 percent healthy again.
“I felt pretty good on the ice,” Burakovsky said of practice on Monday. “We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of treatment and making progress.”
If the Avs are to prevail over Tampa, they will likely need more offense from Burakovsky who has only registered one goal in 10 games this playoff year. But Burakovsky can draw from a wealth of experience that includes his two-goal performance in Game Seven of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final that eliminated the Lightning.
“I think we have a really good chance with this team.”