The Colorado Avalanche will meet the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, marking the first time these two have met since the 2001 Western Conference Final.
The Avalanche won that matchup in five and went on to win the Cup, their second since first winning it in 1996.
Colorado enters this series with the Presidents’ Trophy on their mantel, the third time they’ve collected the honour. They finished the regular season with a 39-13-4 record, tying the Vegas Golden Knights with 82 points but winning the Presidents’ Trophy on account of having more regulation wins. The Avalanche have won their last five regular season games.
The Blues are coming off a 27-20-9 season, finishing with 63 points. They bring a lot of experience to the playoffs, coming off their Stanley Cup win in 2019 and boasting 17 Cup-winning players on the slate. 16 of those skaters won it with St. Louis, while Kyle Clifford owns two from his tenure with the Los Angeles Kings.
On that glorious St. Louis run, it was one Ryan O’Reilly who took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. And it was one Ryan O’Reilly who led the Blues in goals this season, with 24 in 56 games. Four of those babies were game-winners.
On paper – there’s that cliché again – the Avalanche have the edge. Most analysts are predicting a Colorado win, perhaps even an easy one, but the game isn’t played on Twitter. There’s no doubting the skill of this Avalanche roster, starting with Nathan MacKinnon of course. The 25-year-old posted 20 goals and 45 assists in the regular season, but he missed the last two games due to an undisclosed injury.
Colorado is absolutely lethal in terms of post-season scoring, averaging 3.33 goals per game in the playoffs since 2018. This is a deep, skilled team and they have the ability to keep the offence rolling without coughing anything up on defence.
But the Blues have the tenacity to play physical hockey and turn things around in a hurry. And their power play has been good this season. Led by David Perron’s 21 points, the St. Louis man advantage is rolling along at 23.2 percent compared to Colorado’s 22.7 percent.
Unfortunately, the Blues’ penalty kill leaves a lot to be desired. They’ve been operating at a dismal 77.8 percent, good for 24th in the NHL. The Avalanche have been much better at 83.1 percent, eighth in the league during the regular season.
Special teams can swing a series, especially if St. Louis can generate some options on the PP. But if the Avalanche can an extra attacker out there, look out. The Blues may not get that many chances to play their brand new victory song.
In goal, St. Louis will return to the well with Jordan Binnington. As long as there aren’t any Sharks to go after, the Blues have a pretty reliable netminder – even if he did have numerous ups and downs this season. The notoriously cool customer had 41 starts this season, collecting 18 wins with a 2.65 goals against average and a .910 save percentage.
Up the ice will be Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer. He was a driving force for the Avalanche this season and one of the many reasons they obtained such a stellar regular season record. Grubauer set career highs in almost every category that matters, with 30 wins in 39 starts and 40 appearances and seven shutouts. He posted a goals against average of 1.95 and went 13-0-1 over his last 14 games at home. He was 2-1-0 against the Blues.
Pic: Jeff Le/USA Today Sports