Avalanche vs. Blues playoff preview

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No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues

Avalanche: 39-13-4, 82 points

Blues: 27-20-9, 63 points

Season series: COL 5-3-0; STL 3-5-0

Game 1: Monday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, TVAS, ALT, BSMW)

The Avalanche and Blues will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time, and the first since the 2001 Western Conference Final.

Colorado won that best-of-7 series in five games on its way to its second championship; it also won the Cup in 1996.

The Avalanche won their last five games and clinched the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the best record in the NHL regular season. It’s the third time they’ve won the Presidents’ Trophy since it was first awarded in 1985-86. They did so in 2000-01, when they defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven games to win the Stanley Cup, and in 1996-97, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference Final.

Colorado, which is making its fourth straight playoff appearance, had a 15-game point streak from March 10-April 5 (13-0-2) and a team record-tying 17-game home point streak (16-0-1) from March 10-May 13. The Avalanche finished tied in points with the Vegas Golden Knights in the Honda West Division but held the first tiebreaker, which was regulation wins (35-30).

“It feels good,” Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen said. “We achieved the first goal we had this year, to get the home-ice advantage for the whole playoffs, and we checked the one box. Everybody knows what the next box is, so we have to start working on that. I believe in this group. Our goal is to go all the way to the end.”

The Avalanche have nine players who scored at least 30 points, led by Rantanen, who had 66 (30 goals, 36 assists) in 52 games, and center Nathan MacKinnon, who scored 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) in 48 games.

David Perron, who led the Blues with 58 points (19 goals, 39 assists) in 56 games, scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in his last 11 regular-season games. He’s the first point-per-game player for St. Louis since Pavol Demitra scored 93 points in 78 games in 2002-03.

The Blues, who won the Stanley Cup in 2019, are one of three teams to reach the postseason in at least nine of 10 seasons since 2011-12 (Pittsburgh Penguins, 10; Washington Capitals, nine). The roster includes 17 players who have won the Cup, including 16 from the 2019 championship team (forward Kyle Clifford won it with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014).

“When we’re skating and we’re physical, I think we give [Colorado] a lot of issues,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said. “Whether that’s forecheck or defending, when we play our heavy game and commit to it and put pucks in and don’t feed their rush, we make it tough on them and find ways to beat them. That’s what we’ve got to do. That’s got to be our focus.”

St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko missed the final six regular-season games and eight of the last nine because of a lower-body injury. Tarasenko didn’t make his season debut until March 6 after he had surgery on his left shoulder for the third time Sept. 17, 2020. He played four games last postseason before being shut down after Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks on Aug. 14. Tarasenko scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 24 games this season.

Blues defenseman Vince Dunn, who scored 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 43 games, missed the last 11 games with an upper-body injury.

Tarasenko and Dunn are improving, according to coach Craig Berube. Each is day to day.

 

Game breakers

Avalanche: MacKinnon scored at least 20 goals for a fourth straight season but missed the final two regular-season games because of an undisclosed injury. MacKinnon also missed games May 7 and 8 against the Los Angeles Kings because of a lower-body injury, but Colorado coach Jared Bednar said the injuries are not related and they’re hopeful that MacKinnon will be ready for the start of the series.

MacKinnon is averaging 1.35 points per game in his NHL playoff career (20 goals, 34 assists in 40 games). He scored a point in 14 consecutive games during the 2020 postseason.

Blues: O’Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2019 as most valuable player of the playoffs, led the Blues in goals (24), even-strength goals (18), and game-winning goals (four) in 56 games this season.

Video: STL@MIN: O’Reilly roofs breakaway goal for OT winner

 

Goaltending

Avalanche: Philipp Grubauer was among the NHL’s top goalies this season; he went 30-9-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and seven shutouts in 40 games (39 starts), and 18-3-1 with a 1.86 GAA and .924 save percentage over his final 22 games (21 starts). Rookie Jonas Johansson (5-1-1, 2.06 GAA, .913 save percentage) is expected to be the backup with Devan Dubnyk (3-2-0, 3.26 GAA, .886 save percentage) in NHL COVID-19 protocol since May 3.

Blues: Jordan Binnington helped St. Louis win the Cup in 2019 but struggled in the playoffs last season, when he was 0-5-0 with a 4.72 GAA and .851 save percentage. In 42 games this season (41 starts), he was 18-14-8 with a 2.65 GAA and .910 save percentage, but Binnington had a .921 save percentage over his final 15 starts. Backup Ville Husso went 9-6-1 with a 3.21 GAA, .893 save percentage and one shutout in 17 games (15 starts).

 

Numbers to know

Avalanche: They’re averaging 3.33 goals per game in the postseason since 2018; only the Edmonton Oilers (3.75) rank higher over that time. Additionally, Colorado has scored six or more goals in a playoff game five times since 2018; only the Boston Bruins (six) have more in that span.

Blues: They had a 23.2 percent success rate with the man-advantage, led by Perron, who scored 21 power-play points (six goals, 15 assists). Forward Jaden Schwartz has scored 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in his NHL playoff career, the most among all current Blues players.

 

X factors

Avalanche: The higher the stakes, the better forward Nazem Kadri seems to play; he led the NHL with five game-winning goals in 15 games during the 2020 postseason. Kadri was sixth in team scoring this season with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 56 games.

Blues: Defenseman Torey Krug returned May 10 after missing five games because of an upper-body injury. Krug, who signed a seven-year contract with St. Louis on Oct. 9, 2020 after nine seasons with the Bruins, has scored 52 points (11 goals, 41 assists) in 75 NHL playoff games. He scored 32 points (two goals, 30 assists) in 51 games this season.

Video: COL@SJS: Kadri goes upstairs to tie game in 3rd

 

They said it

“I love the way we finished the season. I love the way guys dug in, guys stepping into different roles, different guys chipping in every night. We won some ugly games, we won some games where we played real well. There were a lot of contributors most nights.” — Avalanche coach Jared Bednar

“We know that they have a lot of talent over there. They work hard, but for us, it’s an exciting challenge. We’re going to have some fun and we’re going to beat them.” — Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly

 

Will win if …

Avalanche: They continue to take advantage of their depth, get consistent goaltending from Grubauer and continue to receive offensive contributions from defensemen Cale Makar (44 points in 44 games), Samuel Girard (32 points in 48 games) and Devon Toews (31 points in 53 games).

Blues: They can rekindle the energy, enthusiasm and physicality required to win their first championship two years ago. Binnington, a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy during that run, will need to be on the top of his game if St. Louis is going to advance.

 

How they look

Avalanche projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Valeri NichushkinTyson JostJoonas Donskoi

Nazem Kadri — Alex NewhookAndre Burakovsky

Carl SoderbergPierre-Edouard BellemareJ.T. Compher

Devon Toews — Cale Makar

Samuel Girard — Ryan Graves

Patrik NemethConor Timmins

Philipp Grubauer

Jonas Johansson

Scratched: Jayson Megna, Liam O’Brien, Kiefer Sherwood, Jacob MacDonald

Injured: Bowen Byram (upper body), Matt Calvert (upper body), Logan O’Connor (lower body), Brandon Saad (lower body), Erik Johnson (upper body), Pavel Francouz (lower body)

COVID-19 protocol: Devan Dubnyk

Blues projected lineup

Ivan Barbashev — Ryan O’Reilly — David Perron

Jaden Schwartz — Brayden SchennJordan Kyrou

Klim KostinRobert ThomasMike Hoffman

Kyle Clifford — Zach SanfordMackenzie MacEachern

Torey Krug — Justin Faulk

Marco ScandellaColton Parayko

Niko MikkolaRobert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington

Ville Husso

Scratched: Sammy Blais, Tyler Bozak, Steven Santini

Injured: Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body), Vince Dunn (upper body)

COVID-19 protocol: Jake Walman

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