OK, we get it. The Avalanche are great. Perhaps the best team in the history of the universe, at least according to fans and media in Colorado. The Avs could skate on water – without freezing it first. This is a team that has more talent than all of the other NHL franchises combined. Wayne Gretzky collects Nathan MacKinnon memorabilia. Ken Dryden says the only regret of his Hall of Fame career was his failure to play at Darcy Kuemper’s level. Bobby Orr bows in honor of Cale Makar. It’s a close call, but Jared Bednar gets the slight edge over Scotty Bowman as the most esteemed coach in league history.
The Avalanche just completed the first undefeated regular season (82-0-0) in NHL history, and followed that monumental achievement by sweeping Nashville in the first round. The beatdown was so extreme, the Predators forfeited after the first game, and Carrie Underwood announced that she’ll be moving to Denver to be near her favorite team.
Russell Wilson agreed to be traded from Seattle to Denver because he’s devoted to the Avs, and wanted to become a season–ticket holder at Ball Arena to give himself a better chance to get Nazem Kadri’s autograph. Speaking of Wilson, you may not know this, but Avalanche GM Joe Sakic made the trade to get the Super Bowl winning QB. The Broncos couldn’t have landed Russ without Sakic’s divine intervention.
This just in: Denver’s famous Larimer Square has been renamed. It’s now Landeskog Square. And you’ll be able to see this historic spot when the Avalanche have their Stanley Cup parade in a few weeks.
Of course, none of that happened – except the part about the Avalanche having a great team. And they really are loaded with fantastic skill.
All of my stupid joking aside, the Avalanche put on an incredible demonstration of hockey dominance Game 1 of the second-round series against the Blues. They took more shots than Carmelo Anthony did when he played for the Denver Nuggets. They jumped on loose pucks the way Stan Kroenke dives head first on the sidewalk to pick up a dollar bill before a homeless person can get to it.
The Blues were overrun and incapable of adjusting their heads, their bodies and their tactics. The Blues played slo-mo and seemed to be in a trance; this was more painful than a concert by the Denver jam band, The String Cheese Incident.
Ah, but here’s the thing …
Despite having 80 percent of the shot attempts, 78% of the high-danger shots, and 76.7% of the scoring chances over 68 minutes of competition, the Avs were fortunate to win by a skimp one-goal margin … and needed to work overtime to survive.
Keep in mind that this is largely the same team that’s been kicked out of the second round in its last three NHL postseasons. Last year the Avs opened the second round with two consecutive wins over Vegas, only to get wiped out over the next four games.
After the abrupt elimination, a disgusted MacKinnon said: “I’m going into my ninth year next year and I haven’t won sh–t. So, I’m just definitely motivated, and it just sucks losing four in a row to a team.”
Last year Colorado won its first six postseason games and were downright scary, torching the Blues and Golden Knights by a collective 30-10 score in the six victories. And then … poof. Vegas outscored the Avs 17-8 while winning four straight.
After a history of going soft as soon as the postseason stage becomes larger and harsher, the Avalanche may be just a bit fragile. I’m not insisting that they ARE fragile, but it’s up to the Blues to find out.
The Blues came close in Game 1, using Jordan Binnington as a human shield to limit Colorado to two goals in regulation despite a preponderance of quality scoring chances. And the home team couldn’t put the winning goal in the bank until its 13th shot on goal in the OT – even more remarkable because the Blues had no shots at all. Overtime became a carnival game, with Binnington standing in place as a target.
Game 1 was a double defeat for the Blues. The actual loss was the first and most important defeat. But the Blues also lost in their opportunity to poison the Avalanche with doubt … getting this talented opponent thinking about its past postseason derelictions.
Game 2 presents another opportunity. If the Blues can take a 1-1 series deadlock back to St. Louis, they’ll be in position to push Colorado into a state of anxiety. And this series can be a close series unless the Blues can give the Avs the heebie-jeebies. If the Blues can’t do that in Game 2, then this may not be much of a series at all.
The Blues have enough of their 2019 Stanley Cup winners in the middle of this fray, and these gentlemen should be capable of summoning the necessary pushback in Game 2. The 2019 Blues competed in 26 hard, pressure-packed postseason games. They lost 10 times, but only two were back-to-back defeats (to Dallas in the second round.)
In the Stanley Cup Final the Blues were blasted by the Bruins in Game 6, losing a 7-2 home blowout at Enterprise Center. The Blues reacted to the stunner of a loss by going to Boston and winning Game 7 by four goals. I’m convinced that the Blues still have layers of that character inside of them. We’ll see. But the key is viewing Game 2 as a wonderful opportunity that must be taken instead of entering Ball Arena with a feeling of trepidation.
As expected, Coach Berube is changing his lines for Game 2. Please excuse my shorthand but you already know the players’ first names …
And if there’s a true fourth line:
If Chief goes with 7 defenseman and 11 forwards – and he said that was the plan – then Toropchchenko and Bozak will be joined by rotating forwards that double shift.
Berube not only busted up the Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko line – he took the individual pieces and is placing the players on three separate lines. If Buchnevich, RT and VT plan on joining the competition after moonwalking through Game 1, tonight would be the time.
If you buy into the law of averages philosophy, then there’s a little something to worry about from Game 1: none of Colorado’s top six forwards or two top guns on defense (Makar and Devon Toews) scored a goal. They’re going to score, right? Isn’t it inevitable?
Well, it wasn’t inevitable in Game 1. And for the Blues to succeed in Game 2, Binnington must glow again. It’s a lot to ask, but he’s capable of it. Among the remaining goaltenders in the 2022 postseason, JB has the best save percentage at five on five (.949) the best save pct. in all situations (.944.) Binnington also has the best save rate on high-danger shots – .917, which is amazing.
The Blues will have to win a helluva lot more faceoffs than they did in Game 1. They’ll have to continue to be aggressive at blocking shots. They need to draw more penalties – if possible – but that depends on the officials and their level of involvement.
More than anything the Blues have to believe they can win and compete accordingly. And they must give the Avalanche a reason to believe that this series will be a lot more difficult than imagined. Only then will the doubt creep in.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.