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5 keys for the Avs

It would be easy for me to write something here like "Keep Forsberg healthy" and that would be it, but that's not how I roll. Also, I actually do believe that there's much more to it than that. Here's what I think is important for the Avs:

Steady play from Jose Theodore

I want to be clear: Jose Theodore has been very, very good. He carried this team for a good 6 weeks or so earlier in the season, and it's doubtful that I'd be sporting playoff stubble if not for his play. But I've got a few concerns nonetheless. In every Wild-Avalanche game this year save the final game (which doesn't really count), 3 goals was enough to win the game. Theodore has given up at least 3 goals in 4 of his last 5 starts. Now, we won 3 of those 4 games, but that's probably not going to be good enough to beat the stingy Wild (and, of course, that one loss was to Minnesota). While Theodore has mostly eliminated the soft goals that had plagued him in the past, he's still struggling a bit with screens and deflections. The Wild aren't the heaviest traffic team in the league, but he'll still need to be on top of his game as there will be no margin for error. We're not playing the Canucks here; the Wild know how to play defense.


Joe Sakic

This may come as a shock to you, but Peter Forsberg is going to get mauled in this game. Brent Burns and Kim Johnsson and the Wild's best checking line will likely spend most of their shifts making life miserable for the Spleenless Swede. With all those resources focused on our top guy, that should open up some opportunities for Sakic. Sakic hasn't looked all that great since his return from hernia surgery in late February, but he's quietly put up some good numbers. He has 7 points in the last 4 games and has a point in 9 of the last 12 games. With the attention on Forsberg, Sakic will have an opportunity to have a big series. If he does, I think we'll win.

Get ready for the rough stuff

The Wild got pushed around in the playoffs last year by the Ducks. This year, the team added Chris Simon and Todd Fedoruk to a team that already had Derek Boogaard in anticipation of another physical playoff series. When we played the Wild on March 30th, the Wild broadcasters spent much of the game talking about the improved physicality of the club and Derek Boogaard has already started the chest-puffing by exaggerating the "fight" between Ian Laperriere and Marion Gaborik on Sunday. I believe the Wild will try to establish a physical presence early on, and may be surprised to discover that the Avs are a surprisingly feisty club. They don't really have anyone to go toe to toe with Boogaard, but that's not to say they are shrinking violets - the Avs will dress 8 guys on Wednesday with a fighting major this year.

Special Teams

Duh. The Avalanche have 17 more even strength goals than the Wild do, but 16 less PP goals. I think the Avs, now that they have a full complement of players, will be able to keep the 5 on 5 advantage. But they'll need to close the gap on PP. That means continuing to improve on powerplay and giving up the body to block those blistering point shots from Brian Rolston on the kill. One interesting stat to keep in mind: the Wild gave up 10 shorthanded goals in the regular season. No playoff team gave more than that. The Avalanche aren't a big threat to score shorthanded (just 2 shorties this year), but they should be watching for some critical opportunities on the kill.

Keep the lead

It's an under-reported improvement of the Avs: the ability to hold on to a lead. Earlier in the season, the team was terrible with the lead, looking as awkward as a pimply-faced teen asking the head cheerleader out on a date. The Avs have really improved in this area and that's one of the reasons they've been winning. It certainly doesn't hurt that Theodore gets better as the game goes along.

That's my list. Five admittedly not-very-original keys to playoff success: goaltending, secondary scoring, physical play, special teams and playing with the lead. All things the Avalanche are capable of doing and doing well. "Capable of" is no sure thing, though. That's why they play the games.