Nathan MacKinnon ‚
The dynamic, lightning-fast forward has a shot that explodes off his stick and is Colorado's most formidable forward, especially with Matt Duchene injured. The guaranteed Calder Trophy winner led all rookies in scoring with 63 points and only got better and better late in the second half of the season. A year ago, the budding star was leading Halifax to a Memorial Cup as a 17-year-old. He won't be intimidated by his first NHL playoff.
It seems to be Varlamov's year. His stability in net enabled the Avalanche to play a high-octane brand of hockey. He was outshot most nights yet broke Patrick Roy's single-season franchise record with 41 victories. This came one year after he led the NHL in losses in the lockout-shortened season. He also has 19 games of playoff experience from his younger days in Washington.
ø Gabriel Landeskog
The youngest captain in the NHL at age 21, he's a terrific two-way forward. He was second on the team with 65 points, scored 26 goals and was a team-best plus-21. He has wheels, he can check, he can create plays and he has an outstanding shot. He also has been a constant threat anytime he faces the Wild.
must step up
ø Erik Johnson
At 26, Johnson has had his best NHL season and now will take part in his first postseason. The 2006 first overall draft pick, former Gopher and native of Bloomington will see a lot of ice time and likely be on the ice every time the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line hops the boards. Not only is he physical, he has been an offensive threat all season, lugging the puck up ice and using his big shot.
breaking it down
With five 20-goal scorers and 10 players in double figures in goals, this team is balanced, fast and skilled. Duchene, the Avs' leading scorer with 70 points, is expected to miss the start of the series, but if he returns at some point, it'll only make them more daunting. The Avs ranked fourth in goals for (2.99 goals per game) and can come at you in waves. They play an aggressive style and try to force opponents into mistakes. Their defensemen jump into the attack nearly every rush. Besides MacKinnon, Duchene and Landeskog, Colorado also has leading goal scorer Ryan O'Reilly (28 goals, two penalty minutes), P.A. Parenteau (14 goals) and Jamie McGinn (19 goals).
This is the area in which at some point, one has to think some team will take advantage of Colorado's young, inexperienced blue line. Only Andre Benoit (five games) and banged-up Jan Hejda (three games) have playoff experience. Besides Johnson, the Avs' best offensive defenseman has been Tyson Barrie (13 goals, 38 points), who continues to get better but also might be banged-up. The Avs ranked 15th in goals against (2.63) and 25th in shots against (32.7 per game).
Varlamov obviously will be ridden hard, but if the Avs run into trouble, their backup is an old foe of the Wild, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who held Minnesota to one goal in Anaheim's four-game sweep in the 2003 Western Conference finals. Varlamov, a likely Vezina Trophy finalist, ranked third in the NHL with a .927 save percentage and posted a 2.41 goals-against average.
In his first season behind Colorado's bench, Roy won 52 games, matching the franchise record. He and goalie coach Francois Allaire have done a terrific job with Varlamov, and when you talk to players like Johnson, they say he wiped the slate clean from the Joe Sacco days. There was a breath of fresh air and confidence that ran through Colorado's dressing room. Oh, and he's fiery, so don't be surprised if there's a couple of barking matches with refs and the Wild bench.
Colorado's fast, aggressive style draws a lot of penalties and it usually makes teams pay with its power play. The Avs had the fifth-best power play in the NHL (19.8 percent), not only because of their firepower up front, but because they do a fantastic job of getting pucks through from the blue line. Like the Wild, they can be exposed on the penalty kill. They ranked 24th, killing only 80.7 percent of opposing power plays.
by the numbers
37-3-5 The Avs' record when scoring first
35-0-3 The Avs' record hen leading after two periods
35-7-4 The Avs' record when outshot by opponent
Ryan O'Reilly-Nathan MacKinnon-P.A. Parenteau
Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Jamie McGinn
Max Talbot-Marc-Andre Cliché-Cody McLeod
Patrick Bordeleau-Brad Malone-Paul Carey
Jan Hejda-Erik Johnson
Tyson Barrie-Nate Guenin
Andre Benoit- Nick Holden
Extra defensemen: Cory Sarich, Stefan Elliott, Ryan Wilson.
Injuries: C Matt Duchene (knee) and C John Mitchell (concussion) might return during the series. Hejda (hand) is day-to-day. LW Alex Tanguay (hip) is out.