EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Colorado Avalanche are headed to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2001 after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers with a 6-5 overtime win in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Monday. And that Cup Final berth truly felt like it had been a long time coming.
After shaking hands with the Oilers, the Avs had their on-ice moment with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl -- and yes, they touched it, superstitions be damned. Captain Gabriel Landeskog, who was drafted second overall by Colorado in 2011 and has been with the Avalanche ever since, wasn't about to miss out on any of the experiences earned, considering how far the team has come over his career.
"I'd probably be lying if I told you I thought we'd be here one day in the 2016-17 season," Landeskog said, referencing the last year Colorado didn't make the playoffs. "That was as close to rock bottom as you can come. But at the same time, we showed our resiliency. And then you start making the playoffs and you start believing, then you start seeing progress and start moving. Job's not done, and it's going to be another tough series, but we'll get some rest here and get ready to go."
Defenseman Erik Johnson predates even Landeskog with the Avalanche, having joined the club in 2010-11, and is their longest-tenured player. Johnson well remembers the lean years Colorado fought through to finally reach this pinnacle.
"When I first got to Colorado, the team was dead last," Johnson said. "Had some up-and-down years after that, and we've been knocking on the door here the last couple years. Just soaking it all in and trying to embrace the moment and just having a lot of fun. You just never know when that opportunity's going to come. It's been  games, 15 years. I've waited a long time to have an opportunity to have a chance to play for a Cup. I saw the puck in, I was just so happy.
"I was excited, so excited."
Landeskog shared in that emotion too, recounting the bond he and Johnson have formed through the years.
"He's been there since my first training camp," Landeskog said. "He was my first roommate on the road. And now we're sitting here 11 years later and we're going to the [Final]."
There were no guarantees Colorado would get the job done in Game 4. Edmonton had two multigoal leads on Monday, including a 4-2 advantage in the third period. That final frame is when the Avalanche really got rolling, though, with three unanswered goals -- from Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
With the Avs leading 5-4, Zack Kassian grabbed one more for the Oilers to force overtime.
Once there, Artturi Lehkonen needed just 1:19 to end Edmonton's hopes of reaching the Cup Final with his first goal and third point of the night. It was the second overtime winner of Lehkonen's career that sent his team to a Cup Final (he did the same thing last year in the Montreal Canadiens' conference finals win over the Vegas Golden Knights), making Lehkonen one of only two NHL players to ever accomplish the feat (along with Gordie Drillon, who did it twice, in 1938 and 1939, with the Toronto Maple Leafs).
Lehkonen had been a key addition to the Avalanche's lineup since being acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline for prospect Justin Barron and a second-round pick.
On Monday, MacKinnon said that was a fraction of what Lehkonen is worth.
"I'd trade 10 first-rounders for him right now," MacKinnon joked.
Cale Makar had five points in Game 4, including an assist on Lehkonen's winner, with the play feeling like it took an eternity to develop.
"When I saw him with the puck in front, I was telling [Lehkonen] it felt like a minute long when he had it on his stick," Makar said. "I was just staring at him. I'm like, 'Is this going to go in the net?' That was a bit of an interesting one, but definitely excited. And Lehky, that's why he's the best. He gets to the net, beats guys and gets rewarded."
The third-period deficit could have been enough to shake Colorado's confidence in finishing off the Oilers. But the Avalanche have been a resilient team throughout the playoffs.
"We've been down going into the third a couple goals, and we always stick with it," Rantanen said. "It's what we talked about. We just have to put the second period past us and get over it, and we know if we play our game, we can create chances and come back in games. I'm just happy that we did. It's just our strong mentality on the team."
The Oilers gave Colorado all it could handle, though. And Leon Draisaitl was a major part of that, despite being far less than 100 percent healthy.
Draisaitl had been dealing with various ailments throughout the postseason, to the degree it was obviously limiting his mobility on the ice. And then Edmonton's top-line skater was hurt again in the second period of Game 4, laboring to the bench in apparent agony but refusing to leave the game. He barely missed a shift before adding a helper on Connor McDavid's goal, one of Draisaitl's four points on the night. Draisaitl trails only Wayne Gretzky now in the most playoff games with three-plus points (seven).
"There are lots of guys who go through painful things like that," Draisaitl said of his health. "I'm not going to make this about myself. There are lots of guys who play through injury."
Draisaitl and McDavid combined for seven points in Game 4 and finished the postseason with 32 and 33, respectively. Despite their efforts, Edmonton still fell short of its ultimate goal.
"It feels like it's steps," McDavid said. "Every team goes through it. They become a playoff team. They get there most years and go on a little bit of a run, and they learn that lesson, and then it becomes their time to win."
In other Oilers' injury news, defenseman Darnell Nurse revealed he played the entire postseason with a torn hip flexor.
Colorado has dealt with injuries, as well, including to Nazem Kadri. He broke his thumb in a boarding incident with Evander Kane in Game 3 and subsequently had surgery in Denver. It's unclear whether Kadri will be able to return in the Cup Final, but at least the Avs have time now for the various bumps and bruises throughout their lineup to heal.
Because what's coming next will be the Avalanche's biggest challenge of all. And it'll be worth the wait, even if it takes a week or more for the Eastern Conference finals -- in which the New York Rangers lead the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 -- to wrap.
"It's important to try and get some rest and try to get some guys back healthy," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "Obviously, it's hard to get here. Our guys should be really happy and enjoy it for a couple days. Everyone's happy and it's good, but that's not why we started the season. It wasn't our approach to it at the start, and it's certainly real difficult to get here; but our guys are already kind of focused, and we'll be itching to go at some point soon here in a couple days."