Colorado Avalanche: 3 Keys for the Predators Playoff Series

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 18: Nathan MacKinnon
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 18: Nathan MacKinnon /
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The Colorado Avalanche may not be favored to win the series against Nashville, but they certainly have a chance.

The Colorado Avalanche will take the ice tonight against the Central Division rival Nashville Predators, who also just happen to be the winners of the Presidents’ Trophy. The players don’t have a lot of playoff experience — most haven’t been in a playoff game since 2014, if at all. The Predators competed for the Stanley Cup just last year.

No, the Avs aren’t favored to win the Cup. They aren’t even favored to win this series. Many pundits doubt they can even win a game in this series.

Well, the old cliche is that any team that makes the playoffs has a shot out the Stanley Cup. In fact, in recent years it’s almost been worse to be the dominant team, especially in the first round. Indeed, in the last playoff series the Avalanche played, they were the Central Division champions, and they got eliminated in the first round by a wild card team.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at three non-Nathan MacKinnon factors to the team winning this series — it’s too obvious to point out that the top contender for the Hart Trophy needs to be hot in this series for Colorado to have a chance.

Secondary Scoring

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So, yes, acknowledged: Nathan MacKinnon and his whole line have to do a lot of scoring for the Colorado Avalanche to have a chance at winning any games, much less the series. However, you can’t be a one-trick pony and expect to win a lot of playoff games. Other players are going to have to chip in.

I’d like to see the plodding checking line comprised of Matthew Nieto, Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau continue to produce. They were one of the Avalanche’s most consistent lines all season.

It’s the rookies, though. They’ve been a big factor for the Avs. It’s no surprise — Colorado is the youngest team in the NHL. Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot have been hot recently, and they’ve found some chemistry skating on a line together. J.T. Compher was pretty clutch throughout the season — if he could find his scoring touch again, that would help the team out a lot.

And then there’s Tyson Barrie. He’s had a career year with 57 points, 14 of them goals. He’s the big guy in the big skates on the power play — the Predators are special teams wizards, so Colorado needs Barrie to do his hockey against them.

Goaltending

It’s no secret that the key to playoff success is a hot goalie. If your goalie is hot enough, you only need to score one goal to win a hockey game — the Vegas Golden Knights did it just last night with a Marc-Andre Fleury shutout.

Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov is out for the duration of the post-season with a knee injury. However, backup Jonathan Bernier has played very well in his absence. He was responsible for nine of the games in the Avalanche’s 10-game winning streak. He played in 37 games for Colorado, earning a 2.85 goals against average and respectable .913 save percentage.

However, during that impressive streak, his goals against average was 1.44. He threw a shutout against the Columbus Blue Jackets. His save percentage was in the neighborhood of .950.

A playoff series is best of seven. If Bernier is that hot again, Colorado has a fighting chance.

Staying Healthy

Back to the Varlamov injury, plus that to Erik Johnson. One of the keys to a deep playoff run is depth at every position. The Colorado Avalanche do not have that. Therefore, they must stay healthy.

The 2014 team was in a similar situation. In fact, it’s widely acknowledged that part of the reason the Minnesota Wild were able to upset the Avalanche was because Matt Cooke took out Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit. Matt Duchene missed part of the series with an injury, and Jan Hejda was playing with a hand that had just been operated on.

The Colorado Avalanche aren’t going to ice a completely healthy team — no team is at this point of the year. You get to the end of the playoffs, and some of the players seem like they’re battle survivors.

No telling what injuries the Predators players are hiding. However, a big key for Colorado is exploiting their injury weaknesses while hiding their own.

Next: Avs Leaders Preparing for the Playoffs

The first game tonight starts at 7:30 pm MT and will be televised on Altitude TV as well as NBCSN. Honestly, if the Colorado Avalanche go into tonight’s game with enough pep in their step, they could well take this first of the series.

And, to reiterate, we absolutely need Nathan MacKinnon to score lots and to score often.