It’s the playoffs in the National Hockey League again and that means the Colorado Avalanche are in line to face the Nashville Predators.
Game One of this improbable series goes Thursday and the Predators have home ice advantage to the surprise of no one.
But the Avalanche are back in the playoffs after a 48-point season in 2016-2017 and that’s something in and of itself. Sure, Colorado draws the Presidents’ Trophy winners. And sure, many people have the Predators pegged to win it all. And yes, Colorado didn’t clinch the post-season until the second-last day of the season.
But they’re here.
The Avalanche are largely here because of the performance of Nathan MacKinnon, who managed 97 points in 74 regular season games and is the team’s MVP. He has a dozen goals on the power play and will probably be the best player in this series, so that’s a pretty good ace in the hole if you’re a Denver fan.
But the Predators own the edge almost everywhere else. They’re stingy defensively, finishing second overall in goals against per game with 2.488. And they’re second overall in faceoffs, too. Plus they average 3.183 goals per game, have one of the best defensive groups in the NHL and boast one of the best goaltenders in the entire sport.
Nashville also took the season series against Colorado by, you know, a fair margin (4-0-0) and is probably the most completely balanced club in the league. They’ve gone 29-8-6 since January, have three potential Norris-winning blueliners and have the likes of Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson propelling a potent offence.
Colorado, meanwhile, had just 22 wins a season ago. But things began to change when they finally shipped Matt Duchene out of town and cleared some space. Suddenly new players began to emerge, like blueliner Sam Girard, and suddenly this was Nate MacKinnon’s club.
Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier also proved a critical asset when Semyon Varlamov took a trip down injury lane. The 29-year-old from Laval went 19-13-3 this season and largely secured the playoff berth with his play, which included a 2.85 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. The Avalanche will turn to him to be big against the Preds.
But really, can Colorado possibly be ready? This is a team that was honing its skills using the pieces acquired in the Duchene trade, not a team that was prepping for a deep playoff run. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
That’s not to say that the Avalanche don’t deserve the berth or that they can’t knock off the Predators. But if we’re being honest, picking Colorado to hang against the best team in the West and arguably the best team in the league may be little more than a fool’s errand.