|Photo: Associated Press|
Forwards: Even with the injuries to Matt Duchene and John Mitchell, the Avs are still a very skilled team up front. Their top six still includes Calder candidate Nate MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, and Paul Stastny. Yes, Minnesota does have the likes of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, etc. But that team has had issues finding twine this year. They can generate shots, but they just have not been able to beat the goaltender, especially Colorado's netminder Semyon Varlamov. Colorado also carries a high shooting percentage this year, while Minnesota does not.
Defense: Perhaps a big reason for Colorado's lack of good puck possession numbers, is the play of their defense. Erik Johnson is the Avs most prolific defenseman. Behind him they have Jan Hejda, Tyson Barrie, Nate Guenin, and an assortment of others who make up the last pairing. Not exactly household names. Minnesota this year has seen improved play from their defense, lead by Ryan Suter and followed up with Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella. There is just way more depth to Minnesota's defense right now than Colorado. Jon Blum, who by all means played outstanding hockey the past few weeks, will be a healthy scratch tomorrow night. That's a good problem to have.
Goaltending: Semyon Varlamov has been simply outstanding for Colorado this year. He has been a stable presence in the Colorado net. If he has needed a night off, J.S. Giguere (an old Wild playoff nemesis) gets the nod. Meanwhile, Minnesota has been throwing out a carousel of goaltenders this year, which is now stopped on Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz has had a nice run as the Wild goaltender this year, but his past playoff numbers are less than favorable. Between the two goaltenders, neither is favorable to have in the postseason, but given the season Varlamov had, he gets the edge.
Intangibles: The Avalanche have not been in the postseason since 2010. So their key younger players have little to no playoff experience. To make this point, the combined playoff games played total between Duchene, Landeskog, Hejda, Johnson, MacKinnon, O'Reilly, and Stastny are 30. To compare, Parise and Suter have a combined 110. And most of Minnesota's roster got a taste for the playoffs last year in the first round against Chicago. Playoff experience might not factor heavily in this series, but if it does come into play, Minnesota has the numbers.
Coaching: Patrick Roy is a rookie head coach in the NHL. Yet, he took a very similar roster from last year's team (which lost so much, they received the number one overall draft pick) to the Central Division championship this season. He also did it in perhaps the toughest division in the league. Simply put, he has done a fantastic job. Meanwhile, his counterpart in this series, Mike Yeo, has driven the Wild to their second consecutive playoff berth. While that sounds impressive, Yeo has seen his team have stretches of great play and stretches of inconsistent play. He also has been at his best this year, when speculation has been rampant about whether he will have a future here. Yeo may have more seasons coached in the NHL, but what Roy has done can not be overlooked here.
Series Outlook: Colorado may have taken more categories here, but this series is shaping up to be very closely contested. Colorado may have taken the season series 4-1, but realize that three out of five games were just decided by one goal. The two have played close games all year, and will continue to do so here in the postseason. Strap yourself in, because we could be in for another Minnesota-Colorado seven game series.
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