Who Would Be Ideal First Round Matchup for Colorado Avalanche?

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 27: William Karlsson
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 27: William Karlsson /

The Colorado Avalanche are getting closer to clinching a stunning berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Who would be an ideal first round opponent?

With seven games remaining in the 2017-18 season, the Colorado Avalanche have 90 points. That is a sentence, which I never thought I’d be typing at the start of the season. But as the unfathomable dream of the playoffs inches closer to reality, it is fair to look at potential matchups. Why? Because this team has a chance to not only get in the playoffs, but win in the playoffs!

The three likeliest opponents for the Avs in the first round of the playoffs are the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and Vegas Golden Knights. There are other mathematical possibilities for a first round opponent, but none are worth discussing. Let’s take a look at each of the three likeliest opponents for the Avs.

Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators currently have the best record in the NHL with 106 points. They are objectively the best team in hockey right now. They are 14-0-1 in their last 15 games. Two of those 14 wins in the point streak came at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. More alarmingly, both of the games were at the Pepsi Center, where the Avs have been great this season.

Both of Colorado’s trips to Nashville came early in the season, and both were regulation losses. That makes the Preds 4-0-0 against the Avs this year. The best Colorado could do was gain one point for an OTL, going 0-3-1. While the Avalanche played Nashville tough the last two meetings, this would be a series where Colorado would be heavy underdogs, and not expected to do much.

The Predators have recent playoff pedigree, going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. To that core group, they added Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino, giving them maybe the best center depth in the NHL. They also have the best defense core in the league with PK Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis in their top four.

Oh, and they also have a potential Vezina Trophy winner in Pekka Rinne between the pipes. He is 40-9-4 this season. That record is insane! His .931 Sv % and 2.21 GAA are not too shabby either. Beyond all that, the Preds are incredibly healthy right now, as only Calle Jarnkrok is currently injured. The Predators are the likely matchup is Colorado makes the playoffs as the second wild card.

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets recently set a franchise record for wins in a season with their 44th of the year. They currently have 98 points, eight shy of Nashville, but eight clear of Minnesota. They seem a sure bet to finish in second place in the ultra-competitive Central Division. That means, if the Avalanche were to catch Minnesota, and finish in third place, they would draw the Jets in the first round.

Colorado won both of the meetings between the two clubs at the Pepsi Center by identical 3-2 scores, both in overtime. Appropriately enough, Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson scored the OT winners. In the two more recent games in Winnipeg, the Jets extracted revenge by winning both games by a combined score of 9-1. The Jets dominated both games on the scoreboard as well as physically.

While the Jets lack the playoff resume of the Preds, (in fact the franchise has never won a playoff game) Winnipeg is big and nasty. Dustin Byfuglien mauling A. J. Greer is one of my clearest memories from any game this year. The Jest boast an All-Star goalie of their own in Connor Hellebuyck, whose numbers are almost as good as Pekka Rinne’s.

Next: A.J. Greer Atacked by Dustin Byfuglien

The two biggest problems the Jets would pose for the Avalanche are named Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler. Laine’s 43 goals are tied for the NHL lead, and he has developed instant chemistry with Paul Stastny, whom the Jets acquired at the trade deadline. Then there is Wheeler, who may well own the Colorado Avalanche. Wheeler has 81 points, to lead the team. In 4 games against the Avs, Wheeler has 4 goals and 3 assists.

Vegas Golden Knights

Finally, we come to curtain number three, the Vegas Golden Knights. This is the equivalent of the ‘mystery box’, which could be anything, even a boat! Vegas currently has 101 points and an eight point lead in the Pacific Division. They have already broken all kinds of records for success for an expansion team. However, as an expansion team, we really have no idea how they will react to playoff hockey.

Vegas would be the likely opponent for Colorado, if the Avs were to maintain their current position in the first wild card spot. It would also mean that the Avs would avoid both Nashville and Winnipeg in a potential second round series, were they to knock off the Knights. As such, this would be the ideal first round series.

In the lone matchup of the season so far, Vegas destroyed Colorado 7-0, in October. It was the last game before MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabe Landeskog were put together as a line. Oscar Dansk, who hasn’t appeared in an NHL game since Halloween recorded the shutout. I think it’s fair to look past that game’s result. What will be more important are the two games remaining between the clubs.

Vegas also has an All-Star goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury, who has had a renaissance season for the Knights. Their offense is led by Jon Marchessault and William Karlsson, two players who most of Avalanche fandom had rarely heard of prior to this season. Their best defensemen include Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, and Shea Theodore.

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While playing against Vegas would not be easy, it strikes me as clearly the best of the reasonable options for the Colorado Avalanche. Not only would Nathan MacKinnon be the best player on the ice, as I believe he would be in any series, against Vegas, the Avs might just have the better team. I think Johnson and Tyson Barrie are the best two defensemen, and Rantanen is the second best forward. If Semyon Varlamov can play Fleury even, I think the Avs have a good shot at beating the Knights.