The Colorado Avalanche are heading to the postseason for a fourth straight year. However, this season one round win won’t be satisfying enough. To start their playoff run, the Avs match up against the 2019 Stanley Cup winners, the St. Louis Blues. While members of that team are still around, this has been a much different St. Louis team so far. Here is everything you need to know heading into the series.
The last time these two teams matched up in the playoffs was all the way back in 2001, where the Avs beat the Blues four games to one in the Western Conference Finals, eventually winning it all in seven against the New Jersey Devils.
20 years later, this Avs team is hopeful to go on a run much like that one. They are loaded with talent and have had one of the best goalies in the league this year. This year, the Avs went 5-3-0 against St. Louis. Aside from one 8-0 blowout, almost all the games were relatively close. If the season told us anything, despite the record this won’t be an easy series. The odds are heavily in the Avalanche’s favour, but as many Blues fans will be quick to point out, that’s why the game is played on the ice.
Avalanche vs. Blues series preview— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) May 14, 2021
The most lopsided series of the past decade.https://t.co/Efq4dBlehZ pic.twitter.com/GDGIRzhE1B
Keys to the Series
One of the biggest changes between this Avs team and ones from years past is the amount of depth they have in all areas of the ice. The Avalanche have been on an upward projection, and the last few seasons have not been disappointments. However, they have helped to highlight areas of need for this Avs team, which they have helped address.
Depth has been one of the main concerns over the past few seasons as when Nathan MacKinnon and his line isn’t rolling, at times no one has been. Colorado has brought in names such as Brandon Saad, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and more to help fix that over the past few seasons. This year, they are one of the deepest teams out there, and forwards arguablly aren’t even the highlight of this team.
The defence is absolutely stacked, as it was already looking good with Cale Makar, Sam Girard and Ryan Graves, However, they also went and added Devon Toews in the offseason for two second round picks. Toews has been one of the best defencemen in the league this year and give the Avs one of the deepest defence cores out there. Using that to their advantage will be critical.
Even in net, they added Devan Dubnyk as some insurance if Phillip Grubauer has to miss time again. Ideally, that does not happen though. Grubauer has been a stud this year and it seems reasonable to suggest the Avs go as far as he takes them.
The biggest factor for St. Louis in this series might be the special teams. The Blues had a brutal penalty kill, ranking 24th at 77.8%. The Avs were eighth at 83.1%. However, the Blues powerplay ran at a 23.2% which is good enough for sixth in the league. Colorado was eighth in PP% too at 22.7%.
Both these teams generate a ton of chances on the PP, sitting at third and fourth in CF/60 respectively with almost no gap between them. While the amount of opportunities for each team usually are pretty close, if St. Louis wants an edge they need to find a way to get Colorado off their game and drawing penalties. That’ll be tough because Colorado has so much speed and skill it can be hard to not take stick penalties. However, if St. Louis can get Colorado frustrated that might be their best chance.
They have weapons on the powerplay such as Mike Hoffman and Vladimir Tarasenko. Letting either of those guys get looks is asking for trouble. The Avs will want to keep this one at 5v5 as much as possible, because they are clearly the better team.
Can’t Look Ahead
It feels like everyone is already pencilling in and excited for a Colorado vs Vegas second-round matchup. While that would be thrilling, Colorado can’t look ahead to that series. If they do that they will be out quicker than they ever imagined.
This St. Louis team is not as strong as years past, but they do have experience and have picked it up lately. There is no reason that Colorado shouldn’t win if they play their style of hockey though. After all, it’s what clinched them the President’s Trophy in the first place. Look for this to be a fast but physical series, with all kinds of excitement.