Taking a look at the schedule on Friday morning, I was looking forward to two exciting games to close out the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and boy, we were not disappointed, as the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadians, while the Vancouver Canucks shocked the hockey world by eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions in the St. Louis Blues.
However, that disappointment of a temporary gap in games quickly disappeared, as we found out that the Colorado Avalanche begin their second-round series against the Dallas Stars. While it took me by surprise, I am definitely happy to have some hockey today.
So how did each team get here? Well, let’s start with the Avalanche. After finishing 3–0–1 in the round robin, the Avs secured the second seed in the Western Conference and was matched with the Arizona Coyotes in the first round. While Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper was proving to give the Avalanche some issues in this series, actually stealing Game Three for the Coyotes, it was the Avs who would have the last laugh with two consecutive 7–1 victories to close out the series in five games.
The path to the second round for the Stars was a little bit more challenging, as they finished with the fourth overall seed without winning a single round robin game, including a 4–0 shutout loss to the Avalanche. Following their poor showing in the round robin, the Stars were matched up against the Calgary Flames, the team the Avalanche eliminated in five games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a wild card team. In a gritty and fast series, the Stars trailed by three goals in Game Six. Whatever was said during intermission motivated the Stars, as they would go on to win Game Six 7–3 to eliminate the Flames and punch their ticket to play the Avalanche.
Players to watch
Tied with Elias Pettersen of the Vancouver Canucks for the playoff scoring leader, Nathan MacKinnon is hot heading into this second-round series against the Stars, and will be looked at as being the main x-factor in the Avs’ success. However, he is not the only one. Last series against the Coyotes, Avs forward Nazem Kadri was a pleasant surprise, tallying 11 points (six goals, five assists) and zero penalty minutes to help the Avalanche advance to the next round. With Stars defensemen Miro Heiskanen leading all defensemen with 12 points, the Avs will look to Cale Makar to lift his game to the next level.
For the Dallas Stars, their top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov was kept quiet against the Flames, so clearly that is a line the Stars will hope to reignite in this series against the Avalanche. Some of the key players that I feel the Stars will rely on to help them win the series are Heiskanen and veteran forward Joe Pavelski. As Avs fans may remember from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Pavelski was a factor in Game Seven with the San Jose Sharks, when he returned and helped the Sharks eliminate the Avalanche. Last but certainly not least, the Stars will look to continue to rely on rookie forward Denis Gurianov. Tallying four goals in the Stars’ 7–3 victory over the Flames, Gurianov leads all rookies in the postseason with six goals.
Last year, the Avalanche were exposed and eventually eliminated due to not having a strong depth. This is different this year, as General Manager Joe Sakic made it a mission to have four lines capable of scoring by acquiring Kadri, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi. It may sound simple, but the Avs will need to rely on their overall depth to help them eliminate a defensively built Stars squad.
JJ Seaward — Avs in six games
Aaron Goldschmidt — Avs in six games
Jessica Moore — Avs in six games
Lucas Rozell — Avs in five or six games
Marie Sexton — Avs in five games