Second thoughts: Speedy Avs get rematch with rugged Blues
DENVER (AP) — Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog supervised his daughter’s soccer practices. Coach Jared Bednar did yardwork. Speedy forward Nathan MacKinnon planned some play time with his dogs.
Just a relaxing week break before facing their arch rival: The second round.
Colorado, the top seed in the West, has been eliminated in this portion of the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last three seasons. It’s become somewhat of a mental hurdle. Standing in the way this time will be a nasty, experienced St. Louis Blues team familiar with grinding talented team like the Avalanche straight into the boards.
This version of Colorado has been built tougher and meaner than years past. They no longer rely strictly on speed. That was on display in their first-round sweep of Nashville when the Predators pushed and the Avs pushed right back.
“Teams want to come at us physically,” said Bednar, whose team hosts St. Louis in Game 1 on Tuesday night after a long layoff. “We’re not a small team. We’re not a scared team.”
Last season, the Avalanche swept Ryan O’Reilly and the Blues in in the first round. That St. Louis squad was missing David Perron (COVID-19 protocols) and later defenseman Justin Faulk, who took a hit to the head from Nazem Kadri in Game 2 and didn’t return. Kadri drew an eight-game suspension for the hit, missing the final two games against the Blues and all six games against Vegas as Colorado was ousted.
The Avalanche insist they aren’t dwelling on the second-round exits — San Jose (seven games in 2018-19), Dallas (seven games, ’19-20) and last year’s bruiser with the Golden Knights.
“It’s not really discussed,” Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen said. “Everybody knows what happened and we don’t need to think about the past at all.”
Not when they are staring at a Blues team that doesn’t give teams much time or space with the puck. The Blues clamped down a Wild team built a lot like the Avalanche in six games.
“When you look at how they (Avalanche) score goals, and the way they play, there’s a lot of odd-man rushes and a lot of breakdowns and things like that, where they pick you apart,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “It’s really going to boil down to again playing on the right side of things, checking really well and when we have the puck doing something with it.”
As for being swept last season, Berube doesn’t think that will provide all that much motivation.
“Listen, you’re in the playoffs and trying to win,” Berube said. “What more motivation do you need?”
Avalanche defenseman and Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar will draw even more attention after a three-goal, seven-assist first-round series.
“We’re going to have to be tight on him,” Berube said. “When he’s in the offensive zone, he’s very dynamic. He will make one little move on you and he’s gone.”
Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper will be back in net for Game 1 after a stick blade poked him around the eyelid through his mask May 7 in Nashville. He sat out Game 4 of the Predators series.
“Just a scary situation,” Kuemper said.
It’s the second time in his NHL career a stick has caught him between the bars of his mask. He said he doesn’t plan on changing helmets.
BINNINGTON IN NET
Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington was bumped from the No. 1 goalie job by Ville Husso earlier this season. But with Husso struggling against the Wild, Binnington found himself back in net for Game 4. All he did was go 3-0 and stop 83 of 88 shots.
As a rookie, Binnington went 16-10 with a 2.46 goals-against average to lead the Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup title.
Forward Brandon Saad scored three goals against the Blues in the first round as a member of the Avalanche last season. Now, he’s on the other side.
“You kind of move on pretty quickly,” Saad said. “It’s not like I was there a long time.”
One thing he is sure of: It will be a tough, physical matchup.
“I’d be shocked if anyone swept anyone,” Saad said.
O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and Perron all scored five goals in the series win over Minnesota. It’s just the 11th time in NHL history three teammates have had five or more goals in a series, according to NHL Stats.
In the regular season, St. Louis saw eight forwards record 50 or more points, which led the league.
“They’re deep. They’re extremely deep,” Bednar said. “If you make mistakes and try to push the limits with your puck play and you don’t manage the puck properly, they’ll make you pay.”
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.
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