In a rematch of 2021’s first round, the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues face off in Round 2. In an uneven matchup, the Avalanche quickly rolled over the Nashville Predators 4-0. However, the Blues took a little longer, winning the series 4-2 over the Minnesota Wild. Even though the Avalanche swept the Blues last year in Round 1 and beat them 4-1in the Western Conference final in 2001, the Blues will be more challenging to defeat this year.
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With Darcy Kuemper having an eye injury, it is still possible that Pavel Francouz will start the series for the Avs. However, since Colorado has had a long layoff due to sweeping the Preds, Kuemper should be ready to go. They have a lot of confidence in Francouz, so it shouldn’t worry Avs fans if he needs to start.
For St. Louis, Jordan Binnington will most likely get the nod to start, especially with a save percentage of .943 and a 1.67 goals against average. That was just in three games. Ville Husso started the series for the Blues, thanks to the abysmal play of Binnington, but was quickly replaced once the Wild had him figured out. It will be an exciting duel between the goalies.
The Blues are looking at a banged-up defense, with Marco Scandella and Torey Krug missing Game 6 against the Wild with injuries. Scott Perunovich has stepped in for Krug, especially on the power play. However, the Avs are looking at a ready-to-go defense with Cale Makar. Makar is the Avs’ best defenseman and a Norris Trophy Finalist. The rest of Colorado’s defense offers the depth that the Blues don’t have at the moment, thanks to those injuries. Colorado has the advantage in this area, and the Blues will need to find a way to neutralize the effect Makar has on the game.
The Avs scored seven power-play goals over just four games against the Preds, so the Blues will need to be careful and not take any penalties if possible. Colorado is first on the power play with 43.8%, and 11th in their penalty kills at 76.9%. The Blues are fourth in the playoffs on the power play at 30.8% and seventh in penalty killing at 83.3%. Special teams might be a significant factor in deciding the victor, but both teams need to stay out of the penalty box.
It will be two great offenses going up against each other. Colorado led all playoff teams in scoring with 5.25 goals per game; however, St. Louis was second at 3.67. The Avs have the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichushkin, and Mikko Rantanen, along with a second line of Nazem Kadri, Gabe Landeskog, and Artturi Lehkonen. These are two dangerous top lines the Blues will have to counter. However, the Blues have some great depth at forward position also. The Blues have had nine forwards with 20 or more goals in the regular season. Players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, Jordan Kyroum, David Perron, and Ryan O’Reilly are a few of the best on the Blues’ offense. It will be a fast-paced duel between these offenses, and it will be amazing to watch.
For the Blues, Binnington has to be at his best. He’s performed well in the last three games, but he will need to call 2019 to talk to that Binnington. He has the ability to be the best goalie in the series. He understands what it takes to get to the prize, and he will have to utilize that knowledge, pairing it with the skill the fans and his teammates know he has.
Makar will be the player for Colorado who will be a difference-maker in the game. He has 10 points over four games, and when you compare it to last year’s playoff stats of 10 points in 10 games, you can see a definite improvement and a will to win. Makar is not a Norris Trophy finalist for nothing. The Avs trust him whenever they’re shorthanded and in other situations, so he will be the one the Blues need to slow down.
Coach Craig Berube led the Blues to a cup win in 2019. He knows what it takes to make it all the way. Contrasting that with Colorado, Jared Bednar has had an issue getting his team past the second round. In the last three playoffs, they have failed to get past the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, and Vegas Golden Knights. Berube has a slight advantage over Bednar, but this season’s Avs are not the same as previous seasons. The coach that can make adjustments and play on the other team’s weaknesses is the one that will come out with the victory.
Will the extra time off for the Avalanche help or hinder them? Time will only tell. Colorado is the better team, but the Blues are not about to slow down. It will be difficult for the Blues to win, but it’s not impossible.
Series Prediction: Colorado 4-2
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