The Colorado Avalanche completed yet another impressive late season comeback and managed to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the NHL lockout. After game 71 of the 2018-2019 season, the Avalanche were sitting at 72 points, had a 30-29-12 record, and were six points out of a playoff spot.
However, the team managed to get hot during the final stretch and posted a record of 8-1-2 in the last 11 games of the year. Their only regulation loss coming during the final game of the year after they had already clinched a postseason appearance. Unlike last season where the Avalanche weren’t able to clinch until the final game of the year in a theatrical 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. This year, the team managed to punch their ticket during the second to last game of the season in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Avalanche finished the season with 90 points and a record of 38-30-14 which was four points higher than the Arizona Coyotes who finished just outside a playoff spot with 86 points and a 39-35-8 record. The 90 points is good for eighth place in the Western Conference which means the Avalanche will go to war with the Calgary Flames who finished at the top of the West with a whopping 107 points and a 50-25-7 record.
As expected, the Avalanche face an uphill challenge with the Flames as their opponent. Not only did Calgary perform noticeably better than the Avalanche during the regular season, they also dominated the Avalanche in head-to-head contests as well. The Avalanche’s record against the Flames this season was a poor 0-2-1.
The only bright side for the Avalanche is that all three games contained close scores. The Flames managed to win the first two contests in come from behind fashion by scores of 3-2 in overtime and 6-5. While the third game had a slightly more decisive score of 5-3.
Offense wise, the Flames have the Avalanche beat by a very small margin. Although the top three scorers for the Avalanche have impressive numbers. Forward Nathan MacKinnon finished with 41 goals, 58 assists, and 99 points in 82 games, right-winger Mikko Rantanen finished with 31 goals, 56 assists, and 87 points in 74 games, and left-winger Gabriel Landeskog finished with 34 goals, 41 assists, and 75 points in 73 games. After those three players, the Avalanche’s offense takes a slight dip.
Their next highest scoring forward was Carl Soderberg who finished with 23 goals, 26 assists, and 49 tallies in 82 contests.
Meanwhile, the Flames have four forwards who have all produced elite numbers. Left-winger Johnny Gaudreau finished with 36 goals, 63 assists, and 99 points in 82 games, forward Sean Monahan finished with 34 goals, 48 assists, and 82 points in 78 games, forward Elias Lindholm finished with 27 goals, 51 assists, and 78 points in 81 games, and left-winger Matthew Tkachuk finished with 34 goals, 43 assists, and 77 points in 80 games.
Defense is where the Flames have a larger lead on the Avalanche. Despite the Avalanche having a pretty solid defensive core. Tyson Barrie aiding the offensive efforts with 14 goals, 45 assists, and 59 points in 78 games and Nikita Zadorov providing a wall defensively with a staggering 228 hits and a plus 19 plus-minus rating. The Flames’ defense is on par with the best in the league.
Mark Giordano posted a career year with 17 goals, 57 assists, and 74 points in 77 games with a plus 39 plus-minus rating. Giordano is also favored to win this year’s Norris Trophy for the NHL’s best defenseman. The Flames also have T.J. Brodie and Noah Hanifin in their defensive arsenal. Brodie finished with nine goals, 25 assists, and 34 points in 79 games with a plus 29 plus minus rating while Hanifin finished with five goals, 28 assists, and 33 points in 80 games with a plus 18 plus-minus rating.
However, the one category where the Avalanche best the Flames in by a small margin is goaltending. The goaltender who will likely start for the Flames this postseason is David Rittich who finished with a 27-9-5 record and posted a .911 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average.
The goaltender who will be in net for the Avalanche this postseason is Philipp Grubauer who finished with a 18-9-5 record and posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.64 goals against average. Although the numbers of these two goalies are relatively similar, what puts Grubauer on top is the fact that he was arguably the hottest goaltender during the final stretch of the regular season. The 27-year-old has a record of 7-0-2 in his last nine starts.
The Avalanche and Flames will play game one of their series in Calgary on Thursday night. Despite statistics and previous head-to-head matchups indicating that this should be a likely victory for the Flames. One cannot ignore that the Avalanche’s 8-1-2 record during the last 11 games of the regular season was the best by any other team in the league.
If the Avalanche can continue to win games by any means necessary and Grubauer can remain a brick wall between the pipes. This series maybe a lot closer than people think.