It is finally here, the time we’ve all been waiting for all season. Now the stage is set for the Colorado Avalanche to prove they aren’t just a great regular season team and that they can do some serious damage in the playoffs. The journey to the Stanley Cup begins for the team tonight and we had some thoughts about the road ahead.
Now that the Avalanche have an opponent in the what challenges do the Nashville Predators present?
Jackie: Roman Josi will have a large role for Nashville in this series and everyone will be aware of what the leading defensive scorer is capable of. Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg have each scored over 40 goals this season and if their heaters continue could put a few in the back of the net. Nashville’s depth forwards such as Tanner Jeannot will bring the physicality if last week’s game was any indications. One major question mark is the health of top goaltender Jusse Saros who has enjoyed an excellent season and is capable of stealing a series if he’s able to play at any point.
Evan: The forward one-two punch of Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg is something I’d be concerned about. Usually, I’d say Jusse Saros as Jackie suggests but with Saros out injured 4-to-6 weeks with an LBI, if anyone is going to threaten the Avalanche it’ll be those two. If the Avs can keep them shut down, they will run away with this one at ease.
What is your greatest concern heading into the postseason?
Jackie: Health first and foremost which is probably on everyone’s mind. Of the things that the Avalanche can control, I will always worry the power play will let them down when it’s most critical. Also, I don’t think the Avalanche are near as strong on the road so they need to be able to bring that emotional intensity with them and not let the series get away from them as visitors.
Adrian: Can the Avalanche still slam the door on opponents? It seems like they have been giving up late goals that make games seem closer than they actually were. Doing this during the playoffs is playing with fire. The Avalanche will need to finish games with structure and authority to make a deep run.
Eddie: Depth. The past two seasons the Avalanche have had none of their depth make meaningful contributions come the postseason. Last year especially the first line (plus Brandon Saad) carried the offensive load for the team in both rounds of the postseason and when they were no longer able to carry the team the team failed. After GM Joe Sakic’s bolstering of the team’s depth at this year’s Trade Deadline, there’s no excuse for the team’s depth to underperform like last year. Colorado will need guys like Lehkonen, Compher, Newhook, and Helm to make contributions to the team on the scoresheet if they want to make a deep run. (Also Nazem Kadri please don’t get suspended.)
Evan: I’m worried about the play coming out of the gate. The Avs have been slowing down to end the regular season, and rightfully so after clinching the Western Conference. But will it affect them coming out quickly trying to adapt to playoff hockey? Time will tell, but I hope I’m proven wrong and the Avs will soar. Otherwise, I agree with Jackie that we need to stay healthy throughout the playoffs to make the run.
Casey: I’m worried about injuries above all things. Injuries are inevitable in a deep playoff run, but Nashville and Minnesota/St. Louis are going to make sure to batter the Avs black and blue over a best of 7 series. Tanner Jeannot (318), Jeremy Lauzon (224), Luke Kunin (223), Mark Borowiecki (195), Yakov Trenin (191), and Colton Sissons (188) all finished towards the top in hits this season, and all of these guys will be throwing their weight at every chance. You just have to worry about one nasty hit from any of these guys taking an arm from the Avs.
How far do the Avalanche have to advance to prove themselves?
Jackie: I don’t buy into the Cup or bust manta but the squad certainly has to show progress. Making the third round probably accomplishes this. As always it is in the details and context surrounding a defeat if injuries or circumstances heavily impact them but after another fantastic regular season, they have to show it was meaningful and can seriously challenge for a championship.
Adrian: Cup or bust is the vibe the locker room gives off, but we all know how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup. It is probably the most difficult journey toward championship hardware in sports. I think getting past the second round will unlock Colorado’s full potential as a championship team. With guys like Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichishkin on expiring contracts, I still say cup or bust. We might not see a roster this stacked over the next four or five years.
Eddie: This team is fully capable of winning the Cup this year, especially considering the state of the Western Conference. However, I will be fine as long as they make it past the second round and compete hard in whatever round they move on to, whether they win or not. Many of this team’s stars are young and still have much more room to grow and improve, they also aren’t going to be hard against the cap in the years coming. I believe this is their best opportunity to win a Cup and of course, I will be disappointed if they fail to do so, but getting over the second-round hump is the most important feat for them.
Evan: Ditto to everyone else above me here - get out of the second round. If they get out of the second round, I fully believe they will win the Stanley Cup. With the mess the Pacific has been and the closeness of teams out East, the Avs should prevail. But I’m getting ahead of myself - get out of the second round. If they fail to do so, there’s something to look at from within to figure out what to do for next season.
Casey: I believe the 2nd round narrative is so played out of proportion by outsiders, as only Avs fans know how the cards have been dealt for the Avs in the past. Last years bail out against Vegas was the first time with this core that I felt like the Avs genuinely failed. Two straight years of this would make the narrative the reality outsiders think it is now. If they make it to Conference Finals, I think there won’t be any taming them.
Who is your choice for unexpected X factor in the early rounds?
Adrian: I’m sure I’ll get a ton of flack for this one but my choice is JT Compher. The man dubbed Jimothy Timothy has a nose for clutch playoff goals. His game typically elevates as the stakes get higher. Compher should also be a part of a skilled third line with Newhook and Lehky or Burky. Third-liners should have it good as teams will be worn out from chasing the Avalanche top six around.
Eddie: I like Adrian’s answer. Compher has been a historically clutch player in the postseason, and I will be not at all surprised if he makes some big plays in key moments. I do think Nico Sturm will be the surprise playoff performer for the Avalanche this year though. The German center has been grinding every minute of every game since joining the Avalanche in San Jose and eventually that damn is going to break. Not only that but his style of play is made for playoff hockey, and he could absolutely pick up some greasy goals when Colorado needs them most.
Jackie: Bowen Byram is the greatest wild card in the Avalanche arsenal. Nobody knows what exactly to expect from him with his talent level and how he’s taken his offense to the next level this year scoring at over a .5 point per game clip it is incredibly difficult to peg the ceiling for what he could possibly contribute on this playoff run. If he can stay in the lineup Byram will give the Avalanche a tremendous competitive advantage. Byram has a lot of playoff experience going to game seven of the WHL finals and medaling twice at the World Junior Championship twice including a gold. None of that is the NHL of course but his aggressive game-changing mentality can help spark the team at a critical juncture.
Evan: I’ve been loving the look Artturi Lehkonen has been giving as the regular season came to a close. He’s been slowly growing in and getting better in an Avalanche uniform in the last month. Andre Burakovsky pointed to it during the first intermission of last week’s game against the Nashville Predators. I see him only getting better the more games he plays in an Avalanche uniform, which means some great upcoming performances in the playoffs.
Casey: My answer would be a unanimous choice amongst a certain Canadian fanbase, as the Avs are going to need Nazem Kadri in these playoffs. Kadri had an incredible postseason in the Edmonton bubble, but woke the critics again with another suspension in the 2021 playoffs. Kadri has turned a lot of heads in a contract year in which he posted career highs across the board. That production is going to be necessary in order to maximize the effectiveness of Mackinnon and Rantanen. If you can have Kadri as another point per game threat on a separate line who elevates teammates when he’s at his best, Colorado just becomes even more difficult to handle. If the Avalanche go far in these playoffs, it will be because Nazem Kadri has the kind of postseason that snags a sneaky Conn Smythe nomination.
Make your prediction, how does this first-round series between Colorado and Nashville play out?
Jackie: A tougher first round is something many wouldn’t expect but perhaps it will pay dividends in the following rounds. Colorado in 6.
Evan: Colorado will win Games 1, 2, 4, and 5. I think Nashville will take Game 3 with their return to the playoffs on home ice but outside of this speed bump, Colorado advances in 5.
Eddie: I think the Avalanche will be angry after losing their last three head-to-head matchups with the Predators and start off strong, taking the first three game of the series. Nashville will likely be desperate going into Game 4 on home ice and will be able to prolong the series, but the Avalanche will close out the series in five at home.
Casey: The season series was obviously full of bizarre games, and I think we’ll have a couple high scoring affairs. The big positive for Nashville is their league-leading physicality bodes well for the style of game the playoffs call for. On the same hand however, the Preds were the most undisciplined team in the regular season, and the Avs are up with the best at drawing penalties to set up their lethal powerplay. I think Colorado should take this series relatively easy, winning in 5 games.