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Preview: Avalanche healthy, ready for Game 1

Colorado and Nashville get the first round started tonight!

NHL: New York Islanders at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Colorado Avalanche begin their quest for a Stanley Cup in a first-round matchup with the Nashville Predators. Nashville won the regular-season series, but the Avalanche did not have a fully healthy lineup in their defeats. That has changed, and Colorado will begin with a completely healthy arsenal of some of the NHL’s best players.

Colorado Avalanche

It’s been about winning the cup for the Avalanche since game one of the regular season. Now that a record-setting regular season has passed, Colorado has eyes on an ever-elusive prize. Getting over the hump and earning a shot at cup glory starts with beating a team that features a familiar face and a rowdy arena.

Health is crucial heading into the most grueling phase of a championship season, and the Avalanche have just that. We will see the return of Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and the resurgence of an incredibly dangerous top six. Keep an eye on Valeri Nichushkin, who will remain on the top line with Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. He’s my (not-so-dark) dark horse heading into the playoffs.

We all know that Nathan MacKinnon is a playoff production master, but I expect the attention to be on how Cale Makar affects each game. The twenty-three-year-old appears in his third playoffs and should be as comfortable as he’s ever been on the big stage.

Projected Lineup:

Valeri Nichushkin - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog - Nazem Kadri - Artturi Lehkonen
Andre Burakovsky - JT Compher - Alex Newhook
Andrew Cogliano - Nico Sturm - Darren Helm

Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Samuel Girard — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson

Nashville Predators

The Predators can score and are an excellent powerplay team. Former Avalanche Matt Duchene had a knack for scoring big goals against Colorado this season, so keep an eye on him and Av killer Filip Forsberg. They will have to rely on both of these attributes to steal a victory from Colorado.

The most important and unfortunate news for Nashville heading into this series is the status of their starting goaltender Juuse Saros. Saros will miss the first two games of the series with an undisclosed lower-body injury that he sustained last week in a matchup with the Flames. It will be David Rittich or Connor Ingram between the pipes for Nashville, and although they are capable goalies, they are both a substantial step down from Juuse Saros.

Projected Lineup:

Filip Forsberg — Mikael Granlund — Matt Duchene
Eeli Tolvanen — Ryan Johansen — Philip Tomasino
Tanner Jeannot — Colton Sissons — Yakov Trenin
Nick Cousins — Michael McCarron — Luke Kunin

Roman Josi - Dante Fabro
Mattias Ekholm - Alexandre Carrier
Mark Borowiecki - Matt Benning


Colorado will start Darcy Kuemper in game one this evening. Darcy is looking to solidify his reputation as a playoff performer, and his ability will be crucial to Colorado’s playoff success. Kuemper played his best hockey when it mattered most to Colorado during the regular season. This time around, Colorado needs their best players to have their best games at the best time. Hopefully, that is a trend that continues to manifest.

The Predators starting goalie will likely be David Rittich. Rittich brings experience to the table that Ingram simply cannot. Rittich appeared in seventeen contests during the regular season and made one post-season appearance in last year’s tournament. He will have to be good against the high-flying Avalanche to give his team a shot.