The Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes will meet in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and there are clear expectations here.
The Coyotes are the conspicuous underdogs, at least when it comes to overall talent and hockey blogging buzz.
Colorado burned them in goal-scoring in the regular season, with a fourth-overall 236 to Arizona’s 21st-overall 195. The Avalanche went 2-0-1 in the round robin and would’ve had the top seed in the Western Conference had it not been for those meddling kids from Vegas.
They’ll bring the smoke with Nathan MacKinnon. He led the team in scoring by a big margin, finishing fifth in the NHL with 93 points. That was 43 more than Colorado’s second-leading scorer, defenceman Cale Makar. In three round robin games, MacKinnon had three points.
Containing him with be Job One for the Coyotes, who rely on a strong team game and quality goaltending. They didn’t make life easy for goalie Darcy Kuemper in the Qualifying Round against Nashville, though, allowing him to face 163 shots in four games. He finished with a .933 save percentage, a testament to his prowess.
Colorado will counter with Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. Either netminder could get starts and either netminder can get wins. Head coach Jared Bednar said he’ll use both, especially in back-to-backs, but Grubauer is expected to start Game One. He started two of the round robin games, while Francouz shut out the Stars.
If the Coyotes want to pressure this tandem, they’ll need their top line. Christian Dvorak, Taylor Hall, and Phil Kessel looked good against Nashville, combining for 11 points. Hall led with an average of 19:38 of ice time and 10 shots on goal to go with four points. Kessel had four points.
The Avalanche will counter Arizona’s top line with Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin, and Nazem Kadri. Kadri doesn’t have much playoff experience, but he skated well in the round robin and seems to have found his footing.
While most expect the Avalanche to roll over the Coyotes, anything can happen. Arizona has convincing counterarguments for almost every Colorado point and could make a go of it if they stick to their game plan. Stopping MacKinnon is never easy, but a great run from Kuemper might make all the difference.