Avalanche vs. Blues: 5 questions about Second Round series

PHT previews each Second Round playoff series with five questions. In this post, we explore the rematch between the Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues. 

COLORADO AVALANCHE VS. ST. LOUIS BLUES

Game 1 – May 17: Blues at Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 2 – May 19: Blues at Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 3 – May 21: Avalanche at Blues, 8 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 4 – May 23: Avalanche at Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 5 – May 25: Blues at Avalanche, TBD
*Game 6 – May 27: Avalanche at Blues, TBD
*Game 7 – May 29: Blues at Avalanche, TBD

1. Will Cale Makar take over another series?

After having one of the best regular seasons for a defenseman in recent NHL memory, Makar showed up in the First Round against Nashville and absolutely took over in the Avalanche’s four-game sweep. He was a one-man wrecking crew against the Predators, recording 10 points (three goals, seven assists), recording 41 total shot attempts and 20 shots on goal, while also completely controlling the pace of the game. He did all of that in four games!

Makar is a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the second year in a row and is going to be a mainstay in that discussion for the foreseeable future. He is a special, special player and already on the very short list of best players in the league regardless of position. On a team that has Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog it is Makar that has become the must-see player and its most impactful.

[Conn Smythe watch: McDavid, Makar lead after First Round]

2. What will Jordan Binnington do for the Blues?

This might be the difference between the Blues having a chance to win and potentially losing in four or five games. To say that Binnington has been hit-and-miss over the past couple of years would be quite the understatement.

He has not consistently played at the level we saw back in 2019 when he backstopped the Blues to their first ever Stanley Cup, and his playoff performances the past two years were absolutely dreadful. He ended up losing the starting job in the second half of this season to Ville Husso, but was thrust back into the spot when Husso struggled early in the series against the Minnesota Wild. Binnington played very well the rest of that series to help the Blues get through (especially behind a banged up defense) and is heading into the Second Round as the starter once again.

He is going to need to repeat that performance from the First Round to give the Blues a chance.

The concern: Colorado has had his number over the years. In 19 career starts against Colorado, including last year’s First Round playoff matchup (in which the Blues were swept with Binnington in goal) he has a 7-12 record with an .896 save percentage. Not great.

3. Will the Blues defense hold up against Colorado’s offense?

This is the other big question for the Blues. For years defense had been the team’s strength, right up to their Stanley Cup winning team in 2019, but they have rapidly transitioned into more of an offensive, goal scoring team this season where the blue line is probably its biggest question mark. That was true at the start of the season after losing Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn in recent years, and it remains true now in the playoffs where they have dealt with an extensive list of injuries on the blue line. Robert Bortuzzo and Nick Leddy have already been injured this postseason and are probably playing at less than 100 percent right now, while Torey Krug remains out of the lineup.

The Avalanche have one of the league’s best offenses and a defense that, on paper, is probably the most talented in the league.

[NHL Power Rankings: Top Second Round storylines]

4. Can Colorado win a Second Round series?

This is their hurdle. This is the giant obstacle standing in their way. The Avalanche have been one of the league’s best teams over the past five years, have an absolutely loaded roster, and really have no obvious weaknesses on paper. But they can not clear that second round barrier, losing here in each of the past three seasons (after a First Round loss four years ago) to Vegas (six games), Dallas (seven games), and San Jose (seven games). I am a believer that talent ultimately wins out and that teams like this will eventually have their day. It happened for St. Louis after all of those years, it happened for Washington, and it happened for Tampa Bay. The Avalanche arguably have more talent on this roster than all of those teams did.

5. Who will win?

Avalanche in 5

As good as the Blues’ offense is, Colorado is one of the few teams better, while the Avalanche have the superior defense and the better goalie (assuming Darcy Kuemper‘s eye is okay). This is the year the Avalanche get out of the Second Round and continue this core’s quest for a Stanley Cup.

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