When looking at the first-round matchups this year, the Blues versus the Avs appears to be the most lopsided. The regular season series was relatively even, with Colorado taking five of the eight games. The Avalanche were the best team in the league this season, winning the President’s Trophy with a 39-13-4 record. On the other hand, the Blues were able to sneak in with 63 points thanks to the awful bottom half of the West Division. St. Louis really has their work cut out for them.
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This seems like Philipp Grubauer‘s year. He was a solid fringe starter for years with the Washington Capitals and Avalanche but solidified himself as a starting NHL goalie this season. He had a 1.95 GAA with a save percentage of .922. It is questionable how much of that was a product of the team, but overall he has the advantage over Jordan Binnington. A playoff legend two years ago, Binnington had his worst season yet, with a .910 save percentage and a 2.65 GAA. Health is a big key. Binnington has Ville Husso behind him, and Grubauer has Devan Dubnyk and Jonas Johansson. If either goalie goes down, the opponent will have a field day.
The first two pairings in Colorado may be the league’s best. Cale Makar missed a month of the season, but still averaged a point per game; he could easily be a Norris finalist. His partner, Devon Toews, may also get some votes in his first year with the team. Samuel Girard and Ryan Graves are a formidable second pairing, although it drops off afterward.
For St. Louis, the recent return of Colton Parayko will be huge. The same could be said for Vince Dunn, who is expected to be available for Game One. Torey Krug and Justin Faulk can be assets offensively, while Robert Bortuzzo and Marco Scandella are physical. Still, Colorado has the upper hand.
The key to this series will be the power plays. Both teams are in the top-eight of the league, and the Blues have the advantage. They scored 23.2 percent of the time, although that was just 0.5 higher than the Avalanche. Where Colorado can take the special teams’ win is on the penalty kill. They were eighth in the NHL in PK percentage, while St. Louis was all the way down to 24th, allowing goals nearly a quarter of the time.
The Blues have a fair amount of questions upfront. Vladimir Tarasenko may be back on Monday. He played in just 24 games with 14 points. The Blues need Tarasenko to return to his old self, both for this series and confidence entering next year. They will also miss leading scorer David Perron. Perron is currently on the COVID-19 list, and it is unclear when he will return. Ryan O’Reilly, Mike Hoffman, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn can round out the top-six.
The Avalanche has one of the best lines in the league with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, although the former is banged up. Brandon Saad, Nazem Kadri, and Joonas Donskoi can provide secondary scoring. Valeri Nichushkin is very good defensively. Once again, an advantage to Colorado.
This has to be Tarasenko for the Blues, as once again, they need him to show up. If he misses time or is invisible in this series, then the Blues will have to have series discussions about his future in the offseason. They probably cannot win this series without him.
Grubauer will be the Game-Breaker for the Avalanche. He was hurt in last year’s postseason, forcing the team to be eliminated with Michael Hutchinson in the net. Johansson and Dubnyk are better options than Hutchinson, but not by much. This may be the only category where St. Louis takes the victory.
Neither team has a coach that looks like a Hall-of-Famer, but neither should be on the hot-seat. Craig Berube took the Blues to the Stanley Cup as an interim coach in 2019, so they should trust him. Jared Bednar should have everyone’s respect for turning a team that had 48 points in 82 games when he was a rookie coach into the President’s Trophy winner five years later. However, only so much of the credit can be on his shoulders, as Joe Sakic, the team’s General Manager, did a lot of the work. This category is just about a tie, but Berube has a slight edge for his Stanley Cup victory.
Not too many series have a legitimate chance at being a sweep this year. This may be the only one. Sorry Blues fans, but the Avalanche were a much better team in the regular season. The playoffs are all about who gets hot at the right time, as seen by St. Louis two years ago. So, there is some hope. The 2019 Blue Jackets may inspire the Blues. But more than likely, they won’t.
Series Prediction: Colorado 4-1
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