Pressing question: Are the Avs for real?

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One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Colorado Avalanche went from being second worst team in the NHL to Central Division champions in the span of just one season.

That’s remarkable under any circumstances, but especially when you factor in that the team didn’t change substantially over that stretch beyond the addition of rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon and, the man that’s received most of the credit for the turnaround, coach Patrick Roy.

At the same time, certain indicators have left people wondering if the Avalanche are playing above their heads and in danger of coming back to Earth.

One of the big reasons for that fear is that, from an advanced possession statistics perspective, Colorado is roughly the same team that finished in the Western Conference basement a year ago.

Teams have a tendency to dismiss those statistics and some fans might find them confusing, but basically Corsi and Fenwick are a way of gauging puck possession by looking at how many shots are taken (including those that miss the net). Corsi also includes blocked shots whereas Fenwick doesn’t. The idea is simply that if you’re controlling the puck, you’re controlling the game and that will lead to more long-term success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs found this out the hard way in 2013-14, as their horrid Corsi/Fenwick numbers eventually caught up to them and they collapsed. Colorado isn’t nearly as bad in that regard, but the team is near the bottom of the pack.

Toronto: Corsi 42.1 percent (29th in NHL), Fenwick 41.5 percent (29th in NHL)

Colorado: Corsi 47.4 percent (25th in NHL), Fenwick 46.8 percent (27th in NHL)

All stats courtesy Extra Skater

The way the Avalanche have overcome that deficiency is through strong goaltending. Semyon Varlamov faced 2,013 shots in 2013-14, which is 125 more than any other goalie in the NHL. If he wasn’t also one of the league leaders in save percentage — he finished third, at .927 — there’s a good chance Colorado wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

So is that it then? Colorado might have some defensive weaknesses, but Varlamov is capable of covering them up? Well, maybe not. For one thing, Varlamov has very little playoff experience and none since 2010, so the man at the center of the Avalanche’s success is an X-Factor just based on that.

Additionally, the Avalanche are dealing with the loss of Matt Duchene and two-way forward John Mitchell, which might exacerbate the issues that have been laying beneath the surface.

In the end, the best counterargument to the Avalanche’s shortcomings might be pointing the finger at the team they drew as a first round opponent: the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota ranked 29th in the league in shots on goal per game in the regular season, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. The Wild also aren’t leaps and bounds better than Colorado from a Corsi perspective (48.2 percent, 23rd in the league). Had Colorado been forced to play against Chicago, St. Louis, or even Dallas, it would be an entirely different story, but given that Minnesota is a team that has puck possession issues of its own, that red flag in the Avalanche’s game might not be exposed.

The flip side is that this question won’t be put to rest with the Avalanche beating them. Getting past Minnesota would lead to them facing a team that might be far more qualified to exploit Colorado’s weaknesses.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

Kapanen overwhelms Marchand, scores ridiculous goal

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To the chagrin of the coaches and goalies, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are keeping things hectic during the second period of Game 7.

Kasperi Kapanen seems like he’s perpetually battling for a permanent/more prominent spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s not for a lack of trying or moxie. He’s been hitting posts on some near-misses lately, but saved some magic for tonight.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

You can see that in a 4-3 goal that currently stands as the Maple Leafs’ lead. Kapanen overpowers Brad Marchand and then outwaits Tuukka Rask for an absolutely tremendous shorthanded goal.

(Check out that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

Impressive, especially considering who that came against. At one point, the Maple Leafs had converted on both of their shots on goal early in the second period to go from being down 3-2 to up 4-3. As mentioned after that wild first period, you have to wonder about both goalies’ confidence, but that’s especially true of Rask right now.

To be fair, Kapanen’s showed a real knack for scoring big goals so far during his brief NHL career. As you may remember, he scored the game-winner in double overtime of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals during that tight series to start the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also helped them punch their ticket to the postseason in 2016-17 with his first NHL goal.

Then again, maybe this sort of goal is in the blood? Kasperi Kapanen’s shorthanded goal feels reminiscent of a great goal by his father Sami Kapanen:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins – Leafs Game 7 off to wild start, Reilly hit by puck

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You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for hyperventilating right now, unless they’re merely staring blankly at their screens.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

Game 7 accelerated to 100 mph seemingly in mere seconds on Wednesday:

  • After a Sean Kuraly penalty, Patrick Marleau deflected a puck past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a stunning 1-0 lead off of a power-play goal just 2:05 into the contest.
  • A delay of game infraction gave the Bruins a chance to tie things up on the power play, and they did just that as David Krejci and David Pastrnak set up Jake DeBrusk. That happened 4:47 into the game.
  • Less than two minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored again, giving Toronto a 2-1 edge that wouldn’t last.
  • The two teams combined for four goals through less than half of the first period, as Danton Heinen showed why he should be playing with the 2-2 goal with 11:50 remaining in the opening frame.
  • The Bruins took their first lead (3-2) of Game 7 with less than a minute left in the first period thanks to a goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Those were just the goals, too, as there were some close calls, making you wonder about the confidence of Rask and Frederik Andersen:

The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.

In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.

Yikes.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.

The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.

*Gulp*

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bednar, Cassidy, Gallant are 2018 Jack Adams Award finalists

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Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche, Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights have been named as the three finalists for the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award. The winner of the award, voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and given to the the head coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success,” will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Jared Bednar: With a full summer to work with compared to 2016-17, Bednar helped guide the Avalanche to a 47-point improvement and a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014. The production of their youth was key in the resurgence, with Bednar using 11 rookies throughout the season, tied for the most in the NHL. Led by Alex Kerfloot (43 points), J.T. Compher (23 points) and Tyson Jost (22 points), Colorado rookies played an NHL-high 419 games. The offense also posted its best numbers since 2006-07 with the number of goals scored (shootout excluded) increasing from 165 last season to 255 in 2017-18.

The Case for Bruce Cassidy: During his first full season in Boston, Cassidy led the team to 50 wins and 112 points, the Bruins’ fourth-highest total in 40 years. Like Colorado, the Bruins received contributions from their kids with an NHL-best 58 goals from rookies in 2017-18. Cassidy’s impact extends back to when he took over for Claude Julien over a year ago. The Bruins went 18-8-1 in final 27 games of last season to help return to the playoffs following a two-year absence. This season, Boston cruised through the regular season and was in contention until the final few days for not only the top spot in the Eastern Conference but also the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Case for Gerard Gallant: What else can you say about the job Gallant, an Adams finalist for the second time, and the Golden Knights did during an historic inaugural season? Vegas finished with 51 wins and 109 points to become the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four major North American professional sports leagues to win its division. After a hot start, the Golden Knights saw their goaltenders hit with injury, which included losing Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion for two months. They would use four netminders to stay afloat and set an NHL record on Feb. 1 with their 34th win, most by a team in its first season.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Ted Lindsay Award (Thursday)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins, Maple Leafs battle in Game 7

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Game 7: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Series preview
Stream

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

Game 7, and the next career-defining moment for Tuukka Rask

• Maple Leafs hope playing ‘desperate’ hockey aids them again vs. Bruins

SECOND ROUND OPENING GAMES

Thursday, April 26
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Friday, April 27
Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Saturday, April 28
If Boston advances… Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
If Toronto advances… Maple Leafs at Tampa  Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.