AVALANCHE

Avs-Blues Preview: The better team, not the most-talented, will win

May 17, 2022, 6:33 AM
Nathan MacKinnon...
(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The gateway to the West, the Western Finals, goes through Colorado.

Avalanche are heavy favorites against the Blues. That’s what Vegas says on the betting line. However, St. Louis s no Nashville.

The Blues are winners, and that’s huge deal in the playoffs. For example, see Tampa vs. Toronto in round one. Even with roster changes over last few years, the heart of the team is still beating.

The keys for a potential upset of the Avs by the Blues will be three things: Goaltending, special teams and forward depth.

Binnington or Husso: If neither one of the goaltenders is almost perfect, the Blues will struggle to win four games.

Is the Avs power play able to be stopped? Probably not. Keeping them to under 20% is a must, however, for St. Louis.

The Avs have top-end talent, some of the best in the NHL. However, the Blues have more depth at forward. The third-line matchup may change the result of series, a positive for the Blues.

The Avalanche are scary on the offensive front, even more so with best player in the playoffs so far in Cale Makar. Many fans would be surprised the Blues are better in several key categories during the regular season, including goals scored (309 to 308), power-play percentage (27% to 24%), penalty kill (84% to 78%) and faceoffs won (50% to 47%).

So this isn’t a mismatch. Not by a long shot.

***

KEY MATCHUPS

First Line

As much of a fan of Ryan O’Reilly I may be, there is no question here. If the Avs get into trouble, they can also go back with old faithful Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line.

Advantage: Avalanche

***

Third Line

The Blues have more depth, period. You need four lines, or at least three, to win in the postseason and I don’t trust the bottom six for the burgundy and blue. St. Louis’s depth makes for an argument of which technically is their third line, but for this comparison, let’s do Buchnevich, Barbashev and Kyrou. The right wing here is the key, either Kyrou or Tarasenko, both bring 48 assists to the line. Left wings are a push, both Buchnevich for the Blues, and Andre Burakovsky for the Avs are good in the regular season but neither are Conn Smythe favorites.

Advantage: Blues

***

Goalies

Let’s say I don’t trust anyone here, which is not a good sign for either. Binnington has never been a big numbers guy in the regular season, but he comes big in the playoffs and is able to carry a team. Darcy Kuemper has been good, but only time will tell if he is a primetime goalie.

Advantage: Push

***

Defensive Depth

I hated the Avs depth last season on defense. Hate is a strong word, but they lost to Vegas because of it. This year is different. All six on the backend have been good, each bringing an element to the lineup. The Blues are probably underrated in this heavier and different style, but will still have its hands full versus a world-class skill set in Colorado.

Makar has been so good and so impressive in the first round, he can win a series on his own. That’s a big statement, and even more so for a player that is outside the net, but he is that impressive. Like his skating style, Makar’s defensive game and sense has made enormous strides in the last 12 months. His quickness to close time and space between himself and the puck has become elite, making him the best overall player in the 2022 playoffs so far.

Advantage: Avalanche

***

Key Players

St. Louis: David Perron, Jordan Binnington, Vladmir Tarasenko

Colorado: Nazem Kadri, Darcy Kuemper

***

Series Winner

The Avs should win, for they have the better skill set, but who is the better team? Talented lineups win Presidents’ Trophies; teams win the Cup. Colorado hasn’t had that makeup that since 2001. Toronto lost Game 7 to Tampa Bay this week, not because lack of talent, but they lost to one of the best teams in last 40 years. The Blues have been there and done it. Therefore, the St. Louis Blues are the better team.

Advantage: Blues

***

Avalanche

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)...
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Avs-Blues Preview: The better team, not the most-talented, will win