When you talk about magical moments in sports, some of the memorable of all time have taken place during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bobby Orr flying goal in OT to win the Cup over the Blues. Mark Messier’s guaranteed hat trick to push the Rangers to a Game 7 in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final. Braden Holtby’s massive save against the Golden Knights in the waning minutes of game two of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Patrick Kane beating the Flyers at 4:06 of overtime in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to end a 49 year drought for the Blackhawks. I could keep going on and on but the fact of the matter is that on any given night of the playoffs, almost anything magical can happen.
The Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues are set to begin their first round series at Ball Arena on Monday, May 17th with puck drop set for 10 P.M. Each time will be hoping it’s their turn for the hockey gods to smile upon them and give them their own magical moments. Just two years ago the St. Louis Blues were on top of the hockey world when a young rookie goalie named Jordan Binnington and rugged star center Ryan O’Reilly led them to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final where they eliminated the Boston Bruins in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Blues want to capture their second Cup in three seasons.
The Avalanche have been one of the NHL’s premier clubs over the past few seasons and this season they won the President’s Trophy as the top team during the regular season. Led by superstar center Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche have weapons to score on you from all over the ice. MacKinnon is a huge threat himself but combined with Captain Gabriel Landeskog, star Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen and someone who will be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate in Cale Makar, you have the making of a team who will be a problem for a good long time. The Avalanche have been just on the cusp of winning the cup the past few seasons and they will look to win the franchises’ third cup this playoff run.
If we compare by position, from the forwards down to the goaltending, we can get a good look at who matches up better and who is more likely to win the series between the two clubs. First we will begin with the forwards. The Avalanche have a glut of talented forwards and I mentioned some of them before. MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi make up one of the most skilled, quick and terrifying top-six forward corps in the entire league. They can score on you from anywhere and they aren’t afraid to use their size to their advantage. MacKinnon might be the second fastest forward in the league after Connor McDavid. Landeskog is a captain who plays on the edge. Rantanen has turned himself into one of the most complete wingers in the entire league. Past the top six, the Avalanche have more than enough depth with guys like J.T. Compher, Valeri Nichuskin and Tyson Jost who can play that energy game when the top six need a break. Can the Blues matchup?
The St. Louis Blues boast an impressive top six that includes the likes of the aforementioned O’Reilly as well as Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Jordan Kyrou. Their most talented forward, Vladimir Tarasenko, is still uncertain for game one due to an injury and it’s never a good thing when your best overall player cannot play. Tarasenko’s loss hurts if he doesn’t suit up. The Blues bottom six features a cast of Robert Thomas, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Clifford and Sammy Blais. Again, not too bad honestly but when it comes down to it, the Blues just don’t have the horses the Avalanche do in this series. The Avalanche have a deadlier top six and their bottom six can go toe to toe with some of the big guys in the Blues bottom six. To make matters worse for the Blues is if Tarasenko doesn’t play in this series and even if he does play… what kind of game shape is he truly going to be in. Playoff shape? No one knows and it might be too big a wild card for the Blues to overcome.
We move onto the defense of both clubs and this one is actually a lot closer than I had originally thought. The Avalanche’s defense is led by 22-year-old Cale Makar. Makar burst onto the scene when he signed after his time at UMASS and has scored 94 points in his first two NHL seasons. Makar is one of the most elite young defenseman in today’s game. Behind him are Devon Towes, who was acquired from the Islanders for two second round picks last offseason, Samuel Girard, who was acquired in the big three team Matt Duchene trade a few years back as well as Ryan Graves, Connor Timmins and Patrik Nemeth. Just a ridiculously well rounded and skilled defense corps that can handle size if they need to.
On the Blues’ side of things, they said goodbye to longtime defensive stalwart Alex Pietrangelo this past offseason when he signed with the Vegas Golden Knights in free agency. They rebounded nicely though when they signed Torey Krug away from the Boston Bruins. Krug is their leader on defense and forms a nice first pair with Justin Faulk. They are a mobile pair who can lock down a team’s best forwards and join the rush for scoring opportunities when necessary. Behind them are Marco Scandella, Robert Bortuzzo and Steven Santini. Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn, two of the Blues best dmen, are both questionable for the beginning of the playoffs due to injury which needless to say really hurts them in this category.
So who has the edge? The Avalanche do once again although it is close since the Blues have a nice unit even without Parayko and Dunn. If the Blues had a healthy blueline this would have been a tie in the defense department but again, since they were hit by the injury bug, the Avalanche are just that much better.
The battle between the pipes for this series will be Philipp Grubauer of the Avalanche against Jordan Binnington of the Blues. Grubauer will probably get consideration for the Vezina this year, that’s how good he has been. Binnington has a cup to his name from 2019 and was one of, if not the most, crucial players on that cup winning team. Binnington has the experience and Grubauer doesn’t have a cup to his name… yet. Binnington has 31 games of playoff experience to his name while Grubauer has 23. All signs point to Binnington possibly having the better series due to his experience in the playoffs but Grubauer has had one of the best seasons of his entire career this year. It’s going to be tough to score on these two guys. Is there an edge here? Honestly, I don’t think there is.
Who will win the series? Prediction Time!
When you look at all the categories and how this regular season played out for both teams, there is a clear winner here. I believe the Colorado Avalanche will win this series and it won’t particularly be a long one. This series will end in no more than five games with the Avalanche coming out on top due to their exceptional forwards and a defense corps that ranks among the top five in the league. The Blues do have a great group but the injuries they have will be too much to overcome for a team that will run into the buzzsaw that is the 2020-21 Colorado Avalanche.