After a season of highs and lows, the Colorado Avalanche open the 2019 playoffs on Wednesday, facing the top-seeded Calgary Flames.
Since we last checked in, the Colorado Avalanche settled in to the final Western Conference playoff spot with a 5-2 loss in San Jose. The Avs can be forgiven if they pulled back a little on this one considering the Dallas Stars moved to 93 points and locked-up the top Wild Card seed with a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.
Many longtime Colorado Avalanche fans can confirm that the whole Wild-Stars game was bittersweet. It would have been nice to move up to that 7th seed and not have to face the scalding hot Calgary Flames but it’s always good when the Wild lose. Except, they lost to the Stars. I don’t know if things have changed since the ’96 and ’01 Cup runs but the Stars were public enemy number two, trailing just the hated Red Wings but clocking in ahead of the Blues and Blackhawks. The Wild rivalry is newer but has the same feel.
In the game in San Jose, Nathan MacKinnon scored a goal in the second that gave him his final tally of 41 for the season. A nice number in a league that is reluctant to allow 50-goal scorers these days. While both teams fired 30 shots on goal, the Sharks dominated the Avs in the faceoff circle and were much more physical in the contest. It seemed like Colorado’s hearts were just not in this one. Again, understandable once the game became meaningless.
Semyon Varlamov, in the unfamiliar backup role, surrendered four goals on 29 shots (A Michael Haley empty-netter was SJ’s 5th goal). It truly has been a tale of two halves for Varly, outstanding before the break and struggling since. He finishes out the regular season with a 20-19 record, 2.87 GAA and .905 Save %. His numbers aren’t terrible but declined sharply during his second-half slump. Varlamov is still a #1 goalie in this league but it’s hard to imagine the Avs not riding the hot Philipp Grubauer into the playoffs.
MacKinnon finished 7th in NHL scoring with 99 points, Mikko Rantanen, leader for much of the season, finishes 17th with 84 points.
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We will take a more in-depth look at the matchup with the top-seeded Calgary Flames before the series starts on Wednesday evening. It is a daunting undertaking for the Avalanche but with a hot goaltender and some fledgling scoring depth, who knows what can happen.