The Colorado Avalanche have come a long way this year. They surprised fans and critics alike with their ascension to the NHL playoffs after the worst season in franchise history. Making the playoffs was just the first step for Avalanche players and staff, they want to win. Unfortunately, Colorado would enter the playoffs against the President Trophy winning Nashville Predators. The Predators have arguably the deepest roster in the game and are heavily favored to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
While Nashville leads the first round series three games to one, the Avalanche still have plenty to be excited about. They have been able to poke holes in the league’s best defens and haven’t had too much trouble beating Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne. Two of their three losses so far were only by one goal, and they plainly outplayed the Predators in game three. The series is far from over and Colorado has a chance Friday to steal a game in Nashville and turn this series around. The fact that the games have been so close is pretty surprising when you look at the difference in experience between these two groups.
Take the Predators defensemen for instance. The six players that have seen time in this series combine for 304 career playoff games played while the seven defensemen that have played for the Avalanche have 35 combined games of playoff experience, 24 of which have come in this series. In those 304 games for the Nashville players, they have combined for 134 points in the playoffs. Colorado’s blue liners, just 10. David Warsofsky, Duncan Siemens, Nikita Zadorov and Samuel Girard all played their first career playoff game this season. Nashville’s most inexperienced defensemen in the series is Alexei Emelin, who entered the playoffs with 29 career games played. Erik Johnson would have been Colorado’s most experienced playoff defensemen with seven games of experience if not for a fractured patella that he suffered in late March.
Nashville forwards also boast a much more distinguished playoff history than those of the Avalanche. 546 playoff games have been played by the Preds forwards. Compare that to the 172 games of experience for the Colorado Avalanche, 51 of which are from Colin Wilson alone. The forward group of the Preds have combined for 259 career playoff points while the Avalanche group has 87. The Predator with the least amount of playoff experience is Ryan Hartman who came into this post season with only four prior games played. Sven Andrighetto, Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher and Mikko Rantanen of the Avalanche all entered the playoffs with no previous experience.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the leagues best puck stopper. Regular season awards aside, Rinne holds a winning record in his playoff career. In 74 games, Rinne has won 39 contests. His career playoff goals against average is 2.40 with a .916 save percentage to go with it. These numbers are not too far off from Avalanche starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who’s career numbers are 2.57 and .915. Unfortunately, Varlamov injured his knee late in the season and hasn’t seen a second of ice time in this series. Instead it has been backup, Jonathan Bernier. Bernier’s career numbers are 3.35 GAA with a save percentage of .885 in nine career playoff games. Although Bernier has played solid in this series, it would have been nice to have Varlamov healthy, especially with the games being so close. In the playoffs, one more save in a game can be the difference between winning and losing.
The Avalanche received some more bad news in game four when Bernier went down with an injury, being replaced by Andrew Hammond. Hammond will get the start in game five in Nashville.
Despite injury trouble and lack of experience, the Colorado Avalanche have played well in their first round series against the Predators. This is valuable experience for the youngest roster in the NHL and they have showed that they can skate with one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the playoffs. The next game in the series is Friday in Nashville and although the Avalanche are down 3-1 in the series, don’t count them out just yet.