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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: Round Two

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NHL: Western Conference Qualifications-Colorado Avalanche vs Dallas Stars Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche steamrolled their official first round opponents last week, dismantling the Arizona Coyotes with near-surgical precision in a 4-1 series victory.

It took their second-round opponents a little bit longer to determine their fates, as the Dallas Stars only punched their ticket to the second round on Thursday — but both teams avoided pushing through to seven games, which means they’ll both take the ice on Saturday evening with a little bit of rest under their belts.

The Colorado Avalanche are the near-universal favorites to come out on top of the Western Conference, with few giving pause to the thought that they could meet the Vegas Golden Knights for the Conference Final en route to a potential Stanley Cup Final appearance. But as the Tampa Bay Lightning learned in 2019, there’s always room for an upset — so the Avalanche will have to make sure they don’t get too complacent as they face off against the Lone Star State’s NHL club.

It’s a battle of teams full of offensive firepower, although Dallas has been underperforming in that area at times over the last year. So Round Two could go in a handful of different directions; it could see names like Joe Pavelski, Denis Gurianov, and Tyler Seguin thrive, but it could also see Nazem Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen steamroll through yet another lineup.

THE AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky - Nazem Kadri - Joonas Donskoi
Tyson Jost - JT Compher - Valeri Nichushkin
Matt Calvert - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Matthew Nieto

Ryan Graves - Cale Makar
Samuel Girard - Ian Cole
Erik Johnson - Nikita Zadorov

The only player who has been scoring as much as Nathan MacKinnon through the postseason thus far has been Canucks offensive phenom Elias Pettersson, and he’s done so in two more games; it took him a while, but MacKinnon has officially cemented himself as both a regular season and playoff threat that should make Dallas (and their goaltending) incredibly nervous.

He hasn’t been alone for Colorado, though, which is what has made them so dangerous. While the top line is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous in hockey, Nazem Kadri has officially arrived. He’s been the star of the postseason, making Toronto fans wistful and Colorado fans thankful that he’s brought both grit and a scoring edge to the team’s second line. He’s been versatile, and most importantly he hasn’t gotten himself suspended — meaning that Colorado has been able to take full advantage of him.

It speaks volumes that Cale Makar has been ‘just okay’ at times through the postseason and has still managed to get on the scoring sheet, but Dallas may very well be a trickier team to get through. It would be nice to see him really get his chance to shine in this upcoming series.

THE STARS

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Joel Kivriranta - Joe Pavelski - Denis Gurianov
Roope Hintz - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera - Taylor Fedun

No one was expecting Denis Gurianov, the 23-year-old Russian winger who skated in the AHL as recently as last season, to be the spark plug that opened up the floodgates for Dallas’ scoring in their series-clinching game against the Calgary Flames. But the youngster managed to put up a hat trick against the team’s Pacific Division opponents, helping them to push ahead and make it to round two.

That shouldn’t completely scare the Avalanche, who have plenty of young talent of their own. But it should give them pause, and reason to take the Stars seriously; combined with veteran names like Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski as leaders, along with a trickster of their own in Corey Perry, and there’s plenty for the Avs to focus on as they head into a series against another Central Division foe.

THE GOALTENDING

The news that Ben Bishop is ‘unfit to play’ for Dallas — the universal sign that he could be anything from ill to injured — is an interesting situation for the Avalanche, as it leaves them with the lone tandem option of the two teams if Bishop is out for long-term.

Anton Khudobin will be the starter for Dallas with Bishop out, and he’s proven more than capable of carrying the team during his appearances thus far. While Bishop has struggled to reach a .900 save percentage in his games, Khudobin — who has been a stellar tandem with the former Lightning starter — has posted a .919 in all situations and gone 4-3.

In theory, Khudobin should be able to carry the load. He was stellar in their most recent game after the three goals he allowed, holding down the fort while the team in front of him scored seven unanswered goals to clinch their series. But the Avalanche have a pair of good starters in Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer, while Khudobin’s potential number two is going to be sitting this one out — so if things start to go south, there isn’t much in the way of supplementary support.

For the Avalanche, there’s no confirmation yet — but expect the team to go with Philipp Grubauer. He wasn’t heavily tested by the Coyotes, but he should still be more than capable of holding down the fort; his .937 save percentage during the playoffs through six games is more than enough to get the team through game one.

GAME TIME

Puck drop for Saturday’s game will be at 6PM Mountain Time, and there’s no worry that the game will be delayed or interrupted by anything; these two are the only teams that will be hitting the ice today to start round two. You’ll be able to find the game on NBCSN in the states, or Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.