The Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues will begin round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight at Ball Arena in Denver, CO. The Avalanche made quick work of the Nashville Predators in round one and hope to stretch their winning streak well into the second round. The Blues won three straight after being down two games to one beating the Minnesota Wild in six.
The Avalanche have officially returned to the second round and look to finally slay the dragon and advance. Despite Colorado making the playoffs in five straight seasons, they have yet to make it past the second round. They have earned the opportunity to change that against a familiar foe in the Blues.
The second round is typically the round where a depth player begins to make an impact. If Colorado wants to win this series, we should expect Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon to continue their stellar playoff performances. Still, they will also need dependable support from depth players like Artturi Lehkonen, Nazem Kadri, and Valeri Nichushkin.
Mikko Rantanen was seemingly the only core and team-leading scorer that didn’t dominate in the first round. He missed some time heading into the playoffs due to illness but has since been able to get practice time with his linemates and some much-needed rest. Rantanen is a monster on the powerplay, so keep an eye on him anytime the Avalanche have a man advantage.
Valeri Nichushkin — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog — Nazem Kadri — Artturi Lehkonen
Andre Burakovsky — JT Compher — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Nico Sturm — Darren Helm (Logan O’Connor)
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Samuel Girard — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Note: It’s hard to tell who Colorado’s healthy scratch will be these days. We didn’t see Alex Newhook in any of the four games against Nashville, but they were a heavy-hitting squad. If the Blues are looking for a track meet, he might make the lineup soon. O’Connor stepped in for an injured Cogliano, but Cogs has since returned as a full practice participant.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are a deep and dangerous team riding the momentum of their first-round victory. They may feel like they were the underdogs in that series, but I’d argue the Central Division was as competitive as any all season. They are authentic underdogs against Colorado and will need to play their best hockey to advance.
I hear more and more national pundits taking St. Louis in this series, and most of them are quick to sight one particular stat. The Blues have nine different twenty-goal scorers on their squad. The more critical factor is the slew of champion holdovers from their cup victory in 2019. That experience is invaluable and can stoke the flames of a playoff upset.
Brayden Schenn — Ryan O’Reilly — David Perron
Pavel Buchnevich — Robert Thomas — Vladimir Tarasenko
Brandon Saad — Ivan Barbashev — Jordan Kyrou
Alexei Toropchenko — Tyler Bozak — Scott Perunovich
Nick Leddy — Colton Parayko
Calle Rosen — Justin Faulk
Niko Mikkola — Robert Bortuzzo
Colorado welcomes the return of Darcy Kuemper, who took a stray stick inside the mask. Pavel Francouz stepped in and ended the series in four, giving Darcy plenty of time for healing. Kuemper has the opportunity to earn himself a hefty contract with some solid playoff starts. Hopefully, he can perform and give his team a bit of confidence.
I’m going to keep an eye on this goalie matchup as it may be the deciding factor in this series. Jordan Binnington looked like his old self while replacing Ville Husso and winning games four, five, and six against the Wild, and he will get the start in game one. Colorado seems to have his number as of late, handing him a defeat in six of the last seven and scoring three or more goals on him in all seven appearances. If the Avalanche can solve Binnington early, it could be a short series. If he decides to play as he did in 2019, we are in for another grueling and demanding second round.