Now that game 82 and the regular season has finally concluded the postseason can begin. As the Colorado Avalanche claimed the Central Division crown they will host the Seattle Kraken playing their first playoff series as a franchise. Here are our thoughts heading into that first round matchup.
What challenges do the Kraken possess?
Evan: I’d mentioned in the forwards preview the depth of the Kraken and how they can score. This is where I’d be most concerned about the Avs being beaten, especially depending on the health of certain guys such as Darren Helm, Andrew Cogliano, and Denis Malgin. The top gun of the Avs is the best of the best for a reason, but can everyone else keep up?
Ezra: Seattle moves up and down the ice extremely well, with mobile defenders and speedy forwards that play a well-coordinated fast paced system. They will generate chances, even against an elite defensive team like the Avalanche, and they have guys who can capitalize on them on all four lines and all three D pairs.
Jackie: The season series between the two teams was interesting with Seattle taking two of three and the Avs only winning in a shootout. In two of the games the Kraken really ran up the shot counter but each of the three games was won by only one score. Also, the Avs received goals in the series from Alex Newhook, Denis Malgin, and Bowen Byram so getting secondary contributions might be even more key. The Avs should have the advantage on defense and in goal but have to prove their depth is going to hold up better than a team that was assembled less than two years ago. Seattle plays a well-rounded hard-working team game and will take persistence to wear them down.
Jacob: Seattle has been one of the better 5-on-5 teams in the league this year. They finished 5th in the league in Corsi for (one spot ahead of the Avs), and they were the second-best team in the entire league at converting high-danger 5v5 chances into goals. Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Vince Dunn, and Matty Beniers all finished in the top 55 in even strength points this year, and the Avalanche defense will have their hands full with a deep and speedy team that finished 5th in goals per game this season.
Which other series are you most interested in watching?
Evan: It has to be the other Central Division matchup between the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild. With everyone so closely contested in the top three spots, whoever was going to be facing who in the two and three spots was going to be chaotic. I’m already predicting this series goes seven games with at least a couple of overtime games. And of course, should the Avs beat the Kraken, it will be interesting to see how it all goes heading into the second round.
Ezra: I just want to watch McDavid! The Kings have the defensive center depth to really cause problems for the Oilers, and I’d love to watch Edmonton lose in the first round. But even if they win this series should be really fun - two offensive-minded teams with defensive depth issues and question marks in goal?? Sign me up!
Jackie: The Vegas-Winnipeg match-up is probably as unusual as this Seattle-Colorado series will be and I'm all for novelty. From a game perspective though I’m most interested in watching the star power of the New York Rangers match with the budding stars of the New Jersey Devils. I hope it’s a good series with the kids coming out on top but it could be a compelling one.
Jacob: Toronto’s never-ending quest to beat Tampa Bay in the first round is the most compelling, as that matchup will have more talent on the ice than any other first-round series, to say nothing of the immense pressure the entire country of Canada will be placed on the Leafs to finally solve this boogeyman.
Predictions for how the Avalanche’s first round will unfold?
Evan: Seattle is probably the hardest challenge facing the Avs in the first round since the Nashville Predators back in 2018 when the playoff streak began. They’re going to bring the firepower in their first-ever playoff series and the city is going to be backing them up strongly. So, this certainly won’t be an Avs streak this time around. The Kraken is definitely going to win some games in this series, but I’ll say the Avs win in six games.
Ezra: I fully agree with Evan, this won’t be a quick series. Colorado has some players to reintegrate into the lineup and very much needs to get them up to speed quickly to win games one and two because Seattle is going to win their playoff home opener. Bet on that. They’ll probably take game four or five as well, but if Colorado starts strong they should be able to wrap things up in six.
Jackie: It's tough to beat a team in five but I’ll shade to the slightly quicker work of this series. While I’ve been saying all year this isn’t the same team with a lack of depth, experience counts for a lot in the postseason and you can’t get any more polar opposite than defending Stanley Cup champions vs first playoff series as a franchise. Not to say it will be easy, I expect a lot of gritty low-scoring games but Colorado has the stars who can make a difference when it counts.
Jacob: I’m of two minds in this series. On the one hand, Seattle proved all year long that they are extremely dangerous at 5-on-5, and they have a deep roster that could give them the advantage against Colorado’s bottom six. On the other hand, Seattle is an expansion franchise one year removed from a 60-point season and playing in their first-ever playoff series, while their goaltending is mediocre at best. If Philipp Grubauer and/or Martin Jones struggle, I’d be shocked to see this series go longer than five games. If they play well, I think this likely goes six or seven games.
How far do the Avalanche need to get in this quest for the Stanley Cup? Is anything other than a repeat unacceptable?
Evan: When you win it once, you never want to lose it again. Repeat or bust - or at least that’s what my heart says. My head is thinking logically about this. Because of the roadblocks the Avs have faced all season and the injury plague consistently looming over, it’s going to take a toll on Colorado eventually and become too much. Gabriel Landeskog is already gone for the year - maybe his career for all we know. Unless the hockey gods spare us for once, it’s going to be a long and grueling postseason like always and ultimately become too much to repeat. I believe a trip back to the Western Conference Final would satisfy the soul, and anything more than that is a blessing.
Ezra: Defending champions should be able to at least win a couple of rounds, and if they get healthy and stay healthy this team can definitely repeat. Unacceptable is such a strong word, though - I accept my boys how they are. But if they don’t win the cup again I’m quitting to start a Kraken blog.
Jackie: It’s tough, injuries will give this team a mulligan but having a quiet deadline will get a lot of scrutinies if this team doesn’t go deep in the playoffs. Winning a round seems to be the bare minimum expectation and as always how the team goes down matters just as much as when. This is just one more shot within their window so it’s not the last hurrah to me but a dynasty would sure be nice, too.
Jacob: I think after winning another division title, the bare minimum expectation is for the Avs to make the Western Conference Final. For all the talk about how this is a different Avalanche team than last year and the forwards are not as dominant, there has been little chatter about a positive change from last season. Alexandar Georgiev provides the Avs with a level of insurance in net they frankly haven’t had since at least the days of Semyon Varlamov. Last year if Colorado didn’t play their best, they likely weren’t being bailed out by their goalie and needed their stars to win them a high-scoring contest (ie: their 8-6 Game 1 win in the Western Conference Final last year). This year, Georgiev faced the 4th most shots in the NHL while tying for 6th in save percentage and 1st in wins—he bailed them out all year long.
They really have no business losing to Seattle if they play their best (there might not be a bigger goaltending mismatch on paper in round 1 than in this series), and they should also be favored over either potential second-round opponent. Dallas was one of the healthiest teams in the league and generally had everything go right for them all year long, and they still finished a point behind the Avs who had seemingly everything go wrong for them. The Wild are very dangerous, particularly their top line who can skate with anyone, but they’re also a bit top-heavy and were fairly inconsistent this year. Anything can happen in a seven-game series and luck has far more sway over the Stanley Cup playoffs than any of us hockey fans are comfortable admitting to ourselves, but between the upgrade in net and their improved team defense, in some ways, the Avalanche are better equipped to grind their way to a championship this year than they were last season.