Colorado Avalanche Fan’s NHL Playoff Preview: April 15


Well, for the United States, it’s tax day. For 14 of the 30 NHL teams, including the Colorado Avalanche, it’s a golf day after locker clean-out day. For eight teams it’s the first day of the 2015 NHL Playoffs.

Now, as an Avalanche fan, my #1 wish for the playoffs is that the Minnesota Wild get swept. Other than that, I have teams I think will go all the way (Anaheim Ducks and either New York Rangers or Montreal Canadiens.) There are teams I’d like to see do well but think won’t (Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets.) There are teams I couldn’t care less about (Vancouver Canucks, Tampa Bay Lightning).

In fact, here’s my NHL Bracket Challenge picks:

Completed 2015 NHL Playoff Bracket.

That said, let’s move on to this evening’s match ups.

Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens

The Ottawa Senators are such a feel-good story. They’re the only team in the modern era to come back from a 14-point deficit at the All Star Break to make the playoffs. They suffered that terrible shooting in the city of Ottawa and now the loss of their longtime assistant coach. It would be so awful nice for them to do well in this series.

More from Avalanche News

I’m pretty sure they’re going to fall prey to the juggernaut of the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal has some unfinished business with the playoffs, losing last-minute to the New York Rangers last year after star goalie Carey Price fell to an injury.

Key to the Game: Goalie battle. The main reason the Sens made the playoffs is that youngster Andrew Hammond got hot late in the season. Carey Price has always been hot, though, and is even the favorite for the Vezina Trophy.

Players to Watch: Well, the Montreal Canadiens better keep their eye on young Ottawa defenseman and captain Erik Karlsson. Turn away, and he’ll burn you with a sniper shot from the point.

Not that Montreal’s PK Subban is any slouch in the offense department. He signed a lucrative contract over the season — a lot of eyes will be on him to see if he delivers in the playoffs.

New York Islanders at Washington Capitals

Back in the day, when the New York Islanders didn’t suck (there was a time), they had a great division rivalry with the Washington Capitals. It’s been 22 years, though.

This playoff series looks to be a battle between a superstar, Washington forward Alex Ovechkin, and a budding superstar, New York center John Tavares. Both have five points against each other.

Key to the Game: Power play — Washington’s is best in the NHL, but the Islanders out-scored the Caps 5-3 on the power play, including a shortie.

Players to Watch: Besides Ovechkin, Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen might influence the game. He has 31 points on the season, including four goals. Being paired with shutdown defenseman Karl Alzner creates a deadly duo on the blueline.

Besides Tavares, goalie Jaroslav Halak can be a difference-maker for the Islanders. He won 37 games this season and has a lot of playoff experience.

Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators

As an Avalanche fan, these were two teams I wished would implode during the season. (More on that tomorrow.)

The Predators were oh-so-strong for most of the season, but they started to crumble toward the end. That doesn’t bode well for playoff success. They also don’t have a ton of playoff experience, though they do have a knack for getting out of the first round.

The Blackhawks also faltered a bit toward the end (Thanks, Avs!), but this is a playoff machine. It’s like they do just well enough in the regular season to make the playoffs, which is their natural state. (I don’t like it, but it’s been true in recent years.)

Key to the Game: Offense vs defense. The two teams are very close in goals per game — 2.76 (Nashville) vs 2.68 (Chicago). Strangely, the Blackhawks were better defensively, allowing only 2.27 goals against per game vs. 2.46.

Players to Watch: For the Predators, it’ll be interesting to see what young offensive defenseman Roman Josi can do with his second-ever playoff appearance. This year, paired with captain Shea Weber, Josi scored 15 goals and 40 assists for an impressive 55 points. In his playoff appearance as a rookie, though, he did little but allow a few goals.

The Blackhawks are getting star winger Patrick Kane back, which is noteworthy. True Kane is an offensive dynamo with a ton of big game experience. However, he was out the last 21 games of the season with a shoulder injury — his first game back is the first game of the series.

Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks

I’m still trying to figure out how these two teams even made it into the playoffs. The Calgary Flames I kind of get. They were the exact opposite of the Colorado Avalanche in that they started out strong. So, when they hit a few skids, they were still able to squeak in.

The Vancouver Canucks, though? No idea. Maybe goalie Eddie Lack tweeted and selfied the team into the playoffs. No, really, his goal tending served Vancouver well this season.

Key to the Game: Youth vs age — the Vancouver Canucks are led by the aging Sedin twins, who still manage to carry the team on their backs. But the Flames have Johnny Hockey, young Johnny Gaudreau, practically a shoe-in for the Calder Trophy and one offensive (goal scoring) little dude.

Players to Watch: Better watch those goalies on both teams. Eddie Lack is a youngster looking to make a name for himself after playing second fiddle first to Roberto Luongo and then to Ryan Miller.

Jonas Hiller is a prime-age goalie looking to polish his name after being embarrassed by the lack of playoff faith in Anaheim last year.

Who do you favor, Avs Nation?

Next: Colorado Avalanche: 5 Reasons for Optimism

More from Mile High Sticking