Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon goes from frustration to Stanley Cup champion, capping surreal journey in 2022

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TAMPA -- Nathan MacKinnon's playoffs last season ended in frustrating fashion. After a second-round loss to the Golden Knights, MacKinnon didn't hold back, quoted saying, "I'm going into my ninth year next year and I haven't won s**t."

Just over one year later, and that statement no longer holds true, as MacKinnon and the Avalanche were crowned Stanley Cup champions on Sunday night. 

Colorado defeated Tampa Bay in six games of the finals, stopping the two-time defending champions from a historic three-peat. It is the franchise's third Stanley Cup win and first since 2001. 

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MacKinnon was a critical part of the team's success in both the regular season and the playoffs. After securing 88 points in just 65 games in the regular season, MacKinnon led the Avs in goals during the playoffs, finishing fourth on the team in points. 

And it's fitting that in the final game of the series, it was MacKinnon who was a part of two goals.

He opened the scoring with a one-timer that got past Andrei Vasilevskiy, then assisted on Artturi Lehkonen's go-ahead goal in the second which ended up being the game-winner. 

Nathan MacKinnon's path to the Stanley Cup

It's been a long road for the No. 1 pick from the 2013 draft, along with other core members of Colorado like captain Gabriel Landeskog and veteran defenseman Erik Johnson. After losing in the first round in MacKinnon's first season in the NHL, the Avs failed to make the postseason the next three years. 

Colorado suffered a first-round loss in 2018, then finally, MacKinnon won his first series when the Avs upset the Flames in 2019. Calgary entered as the No. 1 team in the West, but Colorado took them down in five games. However, they were eliminated in the next round by the Sharks. 

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During the 2020 shortened season, it felt like the Avs finally took the step needed to be Cup contenders. Entering the bubble as the No. 2 seed in the West, the Avalanche made easy work of the Coyotes but were stunned in a Game 7 loss to the Stars in overtime of the second round. MacKinnon had 25 points in 15 games during the 2020 playoffs. 

Last season, the Avalanche were the best team in hockey, winning the Presidents' Trophy for the best record in the league. But they failed again to get out of the second round, losing to the Golden Knights in six games. That resulted in MacKinnon giving his infamous quote about failing to win anything. 

He can't say that now.

A kid from Halifax who faced criticism when he was younger with the heavy expectations on his shoulder is now a champion. 

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Bryan Murphy is an NHL content producer at The Sporting News.