Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14 90pts) v.s. Calgary Flames (50-25-7 107pts)
Ladies and Gentleman, the best time of year as a hockey writer or a fan has arrived in the Stanley Cup playoffs! My name is Scott Fairchild and I will be previewing this very intriguing first round match up between the Colorado Avalanche and the Calgary Flames. Let’s first take a look back and see how these two teams arrived to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
How did the Colorado Avalanche get here?
The Colorado Avalanche had some ups and downs this season but ultimately were able to get into “the big dance”. At one point in the season, the Avalanche had to weather one of their best players and captain Gabriel Landeskog being out of their lineup for a significant amount of time with a lower body injury. The Avalanche had to battle the Minnesota Wild and the Phoenix Coyotes in the standings during the final month of the season to qualify for the playoffs. The Avalanche clinched a spot in the playoffs on Game 81 as they defeated the Winnipeg Jets in overtime. Looking back on the season, there were two driving forces that helped the Avalanche get to the playoffs. The first of the driving forces that got them where they are is the outstanding play of their top line of Nathan MacKinnon (41g-58a-99pts), Gabriel Landeskog (34g-41a-75 pts), & Mikko Rantanen (31g-56a-87pts). Also, the hot hand in goal as of late in Phillip Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, & .917 SV%) really helped propel his team into the playoffs. It’s no surprise to see this kind of play from Grubauer as he similarly did this to help the Washington Capitals win their first Stanley Cup championship last season.
How did the Calgary Flames get here?
It is no surprise to see the Calgary Flames in the position that they are. The Flames have been a promising, young, and up incoming Stanley Cup contender for a little bit now. Calgary features dynamic forwards such as Johnny Gaudreau (36g-63a-99pts), Sean Monahan (34g-48a-82pts), Matthew Tkachuk (34g-43a-77pts), & Elias Lindholm (27-g-51a-78pts) who was acquired in an offseason trade from the Carolina Hurricanes. Lindholm has fit in very well on the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan as that trio developed instant chemistry creating one of the best lines in hockey this year. The Calgary Flames also feature a very deep defensive core lead by captain Mark Giordano, Travis Hamonic, & Noah Hanafin who was also acquired along with Elias Lindholm from the Hurricanes. Giordano was one of the overall leaders in scoring in the NHL by a defenseman this season as well as his stellar defensive play. It would not be a surprise to see him winning the Norris Trophy as the leagues best defenseman. The Calgary Flames finished the season as the second best team in the league overall with a 50-25-7 record with 107 points.
How do these teams match up?
Goaltending: Colorado Avalanche (advantage)- the Avalanche have had solid goaltending all season from the tandem of Semyon Varlamov & Phillip Grubauer. Grubauer especially has been on fire and is one of the main reasons Colorado qualified. Calgary on the other hand, has not had at times very solid or consistent play in net especially with their number one goalie in Mike Smith. Goaltending is always a factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs and if you don’t have it, normally teams don’t go very far.
Forwards: Calgary Flames (advantage)- Calgary has more than one solid and dependable scoring line besides just their top line featuring Johnny Gaudreau. The Flames also feature talented forwards such as Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, & sniper James Neal. Colorado on the other hand primarily relies on their top line for offense. For the reasons I listed above I would give the advantage to the Flames as you need as much primary and especially secondary scoring in the playoffs.
Defenseman: Calgary Flames (advantage)- Calgary’s defense led by Mark Giodano (who lead the league in plus/minus with a plus 39 rating) is very solid up and down their defensive lineup. Travis Hamonic (plus 18) and Noah Hanafin (plus 21) are also very reliable and defensively responsible. Colorado has very solid defenseman but are not as deep as what the Flames defensive corps have to offer. Their defensive group is more prepared to shutdown the Avalanche’s top scoring line than the Avalanche stopping the scoring depth the Flames offer. Having the potential/most likely Norris Trophy winner also helps swing things towards the Flames way as well.
Power Play: Calgary Flames (slight advantage)- both teams featured a top 10 ranked in the league power play respectively. I’m giving the Flames the edge as they don’t rely on one line for offense while the Avalanche primarily do. The Flames have the better second Power Play unit as well. Their forward depth and ability to score puts them over the top here.
Penalty Kill: Calgary Flames (advantage)- having one of the best defensive corps in the league as well as the favorite to win the Norris Trophy helps make your penalty kill look fantastic. Colorado is no slouch here on the PK either but based on the overall defensive personnel, the Flames have what it takes to kill off the important penalty kills in the playoffs. Their defenseman and forwards are better equipped to get the puck out more quicker.
3 Keys to the Series for Both Teams
1. Great Goaltending
2. Secondary scoring
3. Grind it out defense
1. Mike Smith steps his game up
2. Shutdown Avalanche top line
3. Your best players are your best players
My Prediction: Calgary in 7 Games
I see this going ALL the way to seven games with Calgary coming out on top in Game 7. The Flames great primary and secondary scoring as well as their defense should propel them onto the second round. However, there is the potential for a big time upset here if Mike Smith is not on his “A” game and playing well in between the pipes for the Flames. Colorado’s top line can be very scary and could take over a series as well as the great play from the Avalanche’s goalie tandem of Varlamov and Grubauer.