Finally dominant in an otherwise tight series, the Avalanche scored three times in a 38-second span of the third period en route to a 5-1 victory and a sweep of their Western Conference quarterfinal matchup.
"Just because they're the eighth seed, we knew they weren't going to fall over for us," Colorado center Chris Drury said. "They definitely gained a lot of respect."
The Avalanche posted one-goal victories in the first three games of the series before finally overwhelming the Canucks, who were appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
"I told the guys there's no shame in losing to a team that is that great," Canucks coach Marc Crawford said. "Colorado is a great team. I don't think they cheated us in this series. I thought their top guys were special players in this series."
Colorado, which won the Presidents' Trophy after recording the best record during the regular season, has made it to the conference finals each of the last two years.
"Our $300,000 players were trying to corral million-dollar players," said Crawford, who led Colorado to its only Stanley Cup in 1996. "But the superstars won out."
On Wednesday, the Avalanche showed why they are favorites to get to the Stanley Cup Finals, setting a franchise playoff record for quickest three goals.
Forsberg, Sakic and Messier destroyed the team's previous mark of 2:03, set by Valeri Kamensky, Craig Wolanin and Sakic in 1996.
Colorado also matched the second-fastest trio of goals in NHL playoff history, falling 15 seconds off the record held by the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs. The New York Rangers scored three goals in 38 seconds in 1986.
"It obviously shows we can be pretty explosive," Drury said. "We've got some talented guys out there. If we do the right things in our own zone and play solid, then at any minute we can explode."
Drury opened the scoring with a brilliant goal and Alex Tanguay capped it with an empty-netter for Colorado, which will have to wait to learn its second-round opponent. The other three series in the West are tied at two games apiece.
"It's a plus," Avalanche defenseman Ray Bourque said. "I think healing a few bumps and bruises that some guys may have and getting everyone 100 percent, it always helps when getting ready for the next series."
With the Canucks generating little offense and Dan Cloutier playing well in his second career postseason start, Colorado held a slim 1-0 lead midway through the third period.
But Forsberg started the outburst 9:11 into the period. After trying to feed Drury on a 2-on-1, he picked up a blocked pass to the left of the crease and beat Cloutier for a 2-0 lead.
Just 17 seconds later, Tanguay ended up with a loose puck to the right of the net and fed Sakic, who put a one-timer past Cloutier from the right hashmark for his series-leading seventh point.
Messier completed the 38-second outburst 9:49 into the period. Rookie Steven Reinprecht threw a one-handed wraparound pass into the crease and Messier stuffed the puck past Cloutier.
"You can't give them any room and we gave them a little bit of room. And they took full advantage of those opportunities," Cloutier said. "They have a very talented team."
Drury opened the scoring on the power play 17 1/2 minutes into the second period, capitalizing on hard work by Sakic and Forsberg in the right corner.
From the right boards, Drury skated into the circle, got rookie defenseman Brad Sopel to his knees with a forehand fake and dragged the puck through the slot on his backhand before whipping it past Cloutier.
"Joe was on his knees and made a great pass to me," Drury said. "I was able to take it to the net and make a move on a guy and get around their goalie."
It was the series high-tying fourth goal for Drury, who also had a pair of assists in Game Four. Sakic also finished with four goals.
"Drury is the best in the clutch," Avalanche coach Bob Hartley said. "He thrives on the pressure situations. He competes so well when the game is on the line."
With a 4-0 lead, the only thing in doubt for the Avalanche was whether Patrick Roy would record his NHL record-breaking 16th playoff shutout. But Trent Klatt scored a power-play goal with 6:33 to play.
Roy made 22 saves in his 200th career postseason game. He is the NHL's all-time leader in regular season (484) and playoff wins (125).
Desperate to extend the series, the Canucks pulled Cloutier for an extra attacker with four minutes left, trailing 4-1. But they could not beat Roy.
Cloutier made 25 saves after stopping 23 of 28 shots in Game One. He played Game Four in place of Bob Essensa, who was out with a knee injury.
"Their goaltender made some great saves in the second period," Roy said. "But we were able to stay patient and wait for our breaks."
Tanguay hit an empty net with 2:35 to play for his first goal of the series.
"All year, Vancouver has played in-your-face hockey," Hartley said. "They deserve a lot of credit. They came at us every game and without their injuries this team could have finished as high as fifth place."
Despite the absence of Naslund and Cassels, the Canucks lost a pair of one-goal games in Colorado and suffered a 4-3 overtime loss on Monday in the first playoff game in Vancouver since 1996.
Toward the end of Wednesday's game, the crowd gave the Canucks a standing ovation.
"It felt good for all our guys," Crawford said. "It's a memory that will stay with them for a long time."
The Avalanche swept a playoff series for the first time since winning four straight against the Florida Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. They opened that postseason by eliminating the Canucks.
"We found ways to win the one-goal games," Bourque said. "And I think that's a sign of a good hockey team."