Tonight the Colorado Avalanche begin their pursuit for the Stanley Cup. For this young team, many will be seeing their first bit of playoff experience, luckily they won’t be alone with veterans alongside them who know what it is like to advance to the best championship tournament in pro-sports.
Unfortunately they will be without the services of the very important Matt Duchene who may not return until after the first round due to injury. His team will meet the Minnesota Wild -the #7 seed- without him.
This Avalanche team is built to win and win they have in the regular season, but the postseason is where the NHL’s best come alive. The lesser squads have been weeded out and the Avs were fortunate enough to be the benefactors of a St. Louis collapse at the end of the season to become the Central Division champions and the #2 overall seed in the Western Conference.
Due to the realignment of the league, the Colorado will remain in their side of the bracket, facing the winners of the St.Louis/Chicago series if they advance past Minnesota.
Can they advance past Minnesota?
The Wild will not be an easy out though. They came on hot at the end of the season to get into the wild card spot, but during the regular season the Avs owned a 4-0-1 record against the defensively adept Wild, with only one game being decided by more than one goal. They have not faced each other since the end of January. Ilya Bryzgalov was also not the starting goalie.
The Wild have talent just as the Avs do: Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Bryzgalov. The Wild’s top players can’t be shirked and the Avs will have their hands full with some of the best (and highest paid) players in the game. Coach Patrick Roy will have to find an answer for bottling them up.
It will be up to guys like Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog to get the Avs through the first round. It will be up to Semyon Varlamov to keep guys like Pominville, Suter and Parise from ending the Avs amazing run. Not to say that the rest of the team doesn’t matter, but without Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog and Varlamov will have to be the shining stars leading the way. O’Reilly has had a great season and Landeskog has rebounded from a lackluster season a year ago, and is the captain of the team. Varlamov has to remain the star goalie and not find himself shrinking under the pressure of playoff hockey.
Another important player to watch is Paul Stastny, who has played his best hockey this season. Stastny is also in a contract year so this tournament could go a long way to getting him a nice payday with the Avs if he chooses to stay. Nathan MacKinnon will be one of the many getting their first taste of playoff experience, but don’t expect him to be anything short of amazing as he has been all season.
The Avs have a rare opportunity before them to take their first year Hall of Fame coach to the Finals and a golden one to win the Stanley Cup after holding the number one draft pick less than a year ago. The Avs are certain to pick up some more hardware after the playoffs, hopefully it includes the ultimate prize. But first they must eliminate the Wild.
My prediction for the series is Avs win in five games. They split even at home and on the road during the season, so I bet the Avs could possibly lose the one game at home. Bryzgalov hasn’t been the same goalie in the postseason as he has been in the regular season and the Avs didn’t take 4 of 5 games by accident.
Bryz won’t be the reason the Wild win, but he could be why the Avs win.
Colorado’s road to the Finals begins tonight in Denver.
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