The second round of the NHL playoffs are finally set to get underway for the Colorado Avalanche. It’s been an entire week since the Avs eliminated the top seed in the Western Conference, so the team should be well rested and ready to get the series with the San Jose Sharks underway.
The Avalanche destroyed more than a few playoff brackets when the handily disposed of the Calgary Flames in the opening round. Now Nathan MacKinnon & Co. will look to prove it wasn’t a fluke as they take on a San Jose team that is an average goaltender away from being the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks were pushed to the brink by Vegas but as is usually the case with the playoffs, it was their best players who were able to lead the way through the opening series. The rumors of Erik Karlsson’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After battling through injuries all season, the 28-year old pending UFA leads all defenders with nine assists so far in the playoffs.
Game one will test the old debate of rust vs rest. Will the layoff halt any momentum Colorado has had or can the Avalanche come out and take advantage of the off time in order to jump on a Sharks team that is undoubtedly playing on tired legs?
This will be the first playoff matchup between these two teams since 2010 when San Jose eliminated the Avs in six games. Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Marc-Eduard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski were all a part of the Sharks team. To put that in perspective, Cale Makar and Samuel Girard were only 12-years old.
Fun Fact: Joe Thornton made his NHL debut in 1997.— Ryan S. Clark (@ryan_s_clark) April 24, 2019
Samuel Girard, Tyson Jost and Cale Makar weren’t even alive yet as they were born in 1998.
Game 1 - Friday April 26, 8 p.m. MT - NBCSN, Sportsnet, CBC
Game 2 - Sunday April 28, 5:30 p.m. MT - NBCSN, Sportsnet, CBC
Game 3 - Tuesday April 30, 8 p.m. MT - NBCSN, Sportsnet, CBC
Game 4 - Thursday May 2, 8 p.m. MT - NBCSN, Sportsnet, CBC
Game 5 - Saturday May 4 - TBD
Game 6 - Monday May 6 - TBD
Game 7 - Wednesday May 8 - TBD
It’s a small sample size, but there is how the two teams have performed thus far in the playoffs:
After putting their first round series to rest early, the Avalanche will end up having an entire week off between games. That week has given Samuel Girard time to heal from his upper-body injury. He has been practicing with the team all week and will suit up for Game one. To make his return even more exciting, Girard has been lining up with Cale Makar on the team’s second power play unit at practice.
With Girard healthy, there is a strong possibility that Coach Bednar goes back to the 11 forwards and 7 defenders lineup he iced for times earlier in the year. He wouldn’t tip his hand at practice, so we’ll likely have to wait to see his lineup at game time.
One other question is whether or not Derick Brassard draws back into the lineup. The veteran forward has returned to health but inserting him back into the lineup would mean the Avs have to scratch two guys that played a big role in the first round.
Despite working his way back from an injury and spending much of his 5v5 ice time away from MacKinnon and Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen leads the Avalanche with five goals and nine points in only five games played.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alexander Kerfoot
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen
Matt Calvert - Derick Brassard - J.T. Compher
Matt Nieto - Tyson Jost
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Ian Cole - Patrik Nemeth
There are two major components to consider with the Sharks when heading into the second round: they’ll likely be without Joe Pavelski to start, and they’ll have to hope that Martin Jones is good to go after showing the two sides of his playing personality through a tumultuous first round.
The Pavelski situation is tough to stomach; after an unfortunate cross-check left him bleeding through his helmet on the ice, the team is unsure whether he’ll be back in time to start the series. That leaves the Sharks without their captain, a guy who put up a whopping 38 goals this year and has 128 games of playoff experience under his belt already.
The Jones situation isn’t quite as unfortunate from an injury standpoint, but certainly gives the Avalanche a chance to take a commanding lead in the series. His play has been a massive mark on the club’s overall performance throughout the year, and it was a defensive meltdown for Vegas during a five-minute major in Game Seven — not a heroic Vezina-worthy performance from Jones — that helped San Jose advance.
The Sharks’ leading scorer is Erik Karlsson, who boasts nine points in just seven games despite not having actually found the back of the net yet. The rest of the team’s success, though, has come from the usual suspects; Logan Couture boasts six goals, as does Tomas Hertl (who also, surprisingly, has managed to score in all situations thus far).
The player to keep an eye on is likely Evander Kane, who has been average — but not incredible — on the scoreboard so far. He’s the kind of player who poses the lethal threat that Gabriel Landeskog does, possessing both physical presence and scoring ability, but he’s got an added level of agitator to his game that leaves him relishing in the trash talk and capable of getting an opponent worked up just to steal the puck and put it in the net. He may only have one goal so far, but make no mistake; assuming that he’s going to stay that way would be a massive mistake.
When Martin Jones first joined the Sharks in the summer of 2015, he had a solid and quiet technical game with just a few holes to clean up; he struggled to adapt positionally on high-low cycle plays and struggled with his lateral movement on his blocker side. He was able to overcome it at first, but as the league grew more familiar with his technique he only seemed to get more exposed — and then a technical backslide this year left those initial holes looking like canyons, instead. He finished the regular season with an alarming .896 save percentage, and only finished the first round with a .904 thanks to a heroic 58-save performance in Game 6.
With a fairly calm demeanor to his game, a locked-in Jones can steal his team a game if the opponent’s goaltender makes even a single mistake. But when he struggles, it’s almost too easy to get him out of position and take advantage — so as long as Grubauer manages to keep things together, he should come out on top.