Part of what makes the playoffs so fun is that every playoff series is filled with compelling narratives for the fans. Is any two goal lead safe between Pittsburgh and Columbus? Do the Blues and Hawks know that games are designed to end after 60 minutes? Don't the Sharks know that they are supposed to be playoff chokers? And of course, can Tampa Bay rebound and win the seri.... oh wait no. No they can't. So lets run down a couple of the narratives developing for this series:
- Road Warriors: Can the Avalanche steal a game on the road? So far the only Western Conference team to accomplish that feat is the San Jose Sharks. DAL-ANA, and CHI-STL are both tied at 2-2 with no road wins in the series. The Avalanche had the best road record in the NHL, but faltered in their first attempt at Xcel Energy Center.
- #Win4TBoobs: How will the Avalanche respond to the loss of a top 3 defenseman: Tyson Barrie. Stepping into his spot is Ryan Wilson. Wilson has more playoff experience than most of this Avalanche team, but he's had an incredibly disappointing season. Can he get back to his old self in the midst of physical playoff hockey? The Avalanche's defense is paper thin, and their chances at a second round berth may depend on it.
- Shutdown Line: On the other side, how will the Minnesota Wild respond to losing Matt Cooke to a seven game suspension? Matt Cooke has played a "shutdown" and penalty killing role on the Wild similar to Max Talbot's on the Avalanche. Now, a younger less experience Wild forward will have to pick up those difficult minutes against the Avs top line.
- So Brave (on home ice): Matt Cooke's knee-on-knee wasn't the only edgy physical play of Game 4. The Wild were notably more physical in front of their home fans. One of the more active players was Nino Niederreiter, he caused Andre Benoit to miss some shifts after a hard hit in the corner, and caused Patrick Bordeleau to miss time after slashing him on the hand behind the play. Benoit and Bordeleau will both be in the Avalanche lineup tonight.
- The Magician: If this doesn't warm your heart you are officially a Grade A Grinch. Joey Hishon will make his first NHL appearance tonight for the Colorado Avalanche. It's been an up and down, injury riddled season in the AHL for Hishon, but he has the hands to make something happen regardless. Hishon will make his debut on the 4th line, but could also see time on Colorado's ailing power play, which is yet to score against Minnesota this season.
- Goalie Battle: Kuemper was strong in net in Game 3, but the Avalanche didn't test him nearly enough. Can Kuemper match Varlamov's goaltending as this series continues? Or will the rookie crack when the Avalanche finally slip one past him?
- Lead or tie: That's the biggest question here. Do the Avalanche fly home with a lead and a chance to end the series on home ice? Or in a tie, forced to take this thing to 6 or 7 games? Let's hope for the former.