With their first playoff run since the 2013-14 season starting today, the Colorado Avalanche have their hands full with the number 1 seed, defending Western Conference champions, and Centeral Division foe, the Nashville Predators.
No matter what happens in the series, nothing but good can come from this season as a whole. Once the Avalanche hit their point total from last year (48) near the half way point, everything that came after is just a bonus. That means the Avs have nothing to lose. Even if they are swept in the first round, nobody will consider this season a loss.
On top of that, the Avalanche have the youngest end-of-season roster in the NHL. That’s not a lot of experience but at this point, all of those rookies are guaranteed four games of playoff experience. That’s huge and will benefit Colorado further down the road.
Looking at the steep hill to climb, many Avalanche fans are asking the question “How far can we actually go?” Thankfully for everyone wondering, the answer is, pretty far. While the Preds are supposed to handle Colorado easily, there are few clubs in the NHL who know the Preds like the Avalanche do. What does this mean? Everything. Throw seeds and the regular season out the window either team can win this series.
Everyone knows why the Predators are favored to win, so let’s look at what it’ll take for Colorado to do to Nashville what they did to Chicago last year. The Avalanche are coming off a historically awful season, yet managed to fight their way to the playoffs on the back of their buckets of young talent, top line, and spectacular goal tending from both Bernier and the now injured Varlamov.
The Avalanche are a fast team that need to push the pace of the game. Nashville doesn’t get the nickname of Smashville for no reason. Their defense is demoralizing, physical, and consistent. Scoring first has to be a must the entire series. If the Avalanche can force the Preds to play offensively, they can out pace them. The Avalanche this season have lived and died based on the first goal of the game. So step one is score first.
Step two is taking on of the first two games in Nashville. The Avalanche have shown they are nothing short of dominant when on home ice. If the Avalanche can win the first or second game of the series AND win both home games at home, a third game will come to Pepsi Center with the ability to win the series. Yes it’s a tall order, but this team can beat anyone, any day on home ice.
The third step to winning is staying on top in special teams. The Avalanche have a top 5 PK this year and a top 10 PP. Limiting the Preds on the power play shouldn’t be the biggest challenge, but scoring on their defense, even man up, is incredibly difficult given their stellar defensive depth and near unbeatable goal tending from Pekka Rinne. However, fast teams tend to draw more penalties against defensive teams. Finding a way to capitalize on those man advantages could be the difference in this series.
This series will be long and grueling, but one of the best first round matchups this postseason. If the Avalanche come out of round one, everyone else better watch out. The second round for the Avalanche (if they win in the first round) will feature yet another divisional rival. Either the Minnesota Wild or the Winnipeg jets will play in the second round. Both teams feature a 40 goal scorer and are lethal in the offensive zone with similar play styles. The only edge the Wild have on the Jets is goaltender Devin Dubnyk and the only edge the Jets have on the Wild is a terrifying home-ice advantage. The same thing goes for both of those teams as with the Preds. Throw the regular season out the window, because anyone can win. Divisional playoff games are always extremely intense affairs where the winner in uncertain until the dust settles.
Regardless of who is playing in the second round against the Avalanche, Colorado will have to continue to play fast, win their home games, and score first. This will be the formula all postseason for the 8 seeded Avs.
If the Avalanche move into the Western Conference final, they will most likely be playing the Vegas Golden Knights. The Avalanche struggled mightily this year against the Knights going 1-2 on the season, with the only win coming in a shootout at home. The Knights also have a stellar home record and will be a formidable foe. On the bright side, a bit of a David and Goliath situation may favor the Avalanche. Continuing to push the pace will be the Avs best chance at stunning the Pacific Division winning expansion team.
With a win in the third round, the Avs would move to the Stanley Cup Finals. Likely opponents are the Back to Back and defending Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins or the Atlantic Division powerhouse of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both opponents are elite teams that know how to win and are no strangers to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both teams feature lights out goal tending, standup blue line defense, unstoppable playmakers, and experience far beyond that of the Avalanche. The Pens were swept 2-0 this year by the Avs, but that means nothing because playoff Pittsburgh is a whole different beast. The Lightning swept the Avs 2-0 this year in the regular season. The Avs put up a valiant fight against the Lightning in what was a 6-5 thriller and one of the best games in the NHL this season. A series against either team would be fun, fast, and ferocious.
So, in short…
Yes, it will be a challenge. Yes, the Avalanche are the underdogs. Regardless, yes, the Avalanche have a chance to win.
The Colorado Avalanche kickoff their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Nashville, Tennessee, against the Predators. Coverage begins tonight, April 12th, at 7:30 P.M. MT on NBC Sports Network.