3 X-Factors for the Avalanche Heading Into the Playoffs

A few weeks ago, the Colorado Avalanche clinched a playoff position, but they are still embroiled in a tight battle for the top spot in the Central Division. It’s a far cry from the struggles they faced early in the season and a turn of the new year that saw critics question whether or not they’d even make the postseason. As they await official confirmation of their first-round opponent, they can look to the playoffs and decipher what will need to happen in order for the defending Stanley Cup champions to become repeat winners. Here are three x-factors the Avalanche will need to see in the 2023 Playoffs.

X-Factor No. 1: Otherworldly Goaltending

Last year’s Stanley Cup victory was thanks in huge part to backup netminder Pavel Francouz, who did not lose any of the six postseason appearances he made in the Avalanche’s run to the Cup. He was instrumental in the club’s sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, and his big performance between the crease (he also played two games against the St. Louis Blues while then-starter Darcy Kuemper was out with an eye injury) was the kind of storyline that offers just enough magic to be true.

Pavel Francouz Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Pavel Francouz of the Colorado Avalanche lifts the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

This year, the club will need the same kind of effort from Alexandar Georgiev, who is in his first year with the Avalanche after replacing Kuemper between the pipes. His efforts this season have been solid, and he has carried the team to victories through a near-constant stream of injuries. He’s started 59 games this season and posted 38 wins with a 2.54 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. He even set a franchise record, collecting 19 road wins this season. If he continues the impressive pace he’s carried all season, Georgiev will certainly be an x-factor in the Avalanche’s playoff run this season.

X-Factor No. 2: Production from Depth Players

Players like Evan Rodrigues, Logan O’Connor and J.T. Compher proved crucial to the Avalanche’s success through the injuries and a trade deadline that could be deemed underwhelming at best. Sure, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen both eclipsed 100 points for the first time in their respective careers, but it was Val Nichushkin who came out of the gate hot (before an injury saw him miss a majority of the season) and Rodrigues who slotted in for first-line injuries. Opposing defenses will be looking to neutralize the offensive efforts set forth by MacKinnon, Rantanen and even Cale Makar (should he return from injury for the playoffs), so the secondary players in Compher, Alex Newhook and more will have to step up and find the back of the net.

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Last season, it was Nazem Kadri who stepped up to the plate (despite battling his own injury) alongside Andrew Cogliano and Andre Burakovsky to score big goals and seal victories. This year, with Kadri and Burakovsky joining the Calgary Flames and the Seattle Kraken, respectively, new players will be given the opportunity to become playoff heroes, and the secondary scoring in O’Connor, Nichushkin, and Rodrigues will have to be x-factors for these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

X-Factor No. 3: Injured Players Have to Stay Healthy

It’s been a seemingly never-ending storyline for the Avalanche this season: injuries have plagued this roster for the entire year. Nichushkin, Darren Helm, Josh Manson, Makar and even MacKinnon missed significant time in the lineup due to injury, and captain Gabriel Landeskog has yet to play a game with the club. So, of course, the final x-factor seems obvious: the team will need to stay healthy.

Valeri Nichushkin Colorado Avalanche
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If Makar and Manson, as well as Landeskog and Artturi Lehkonen (all of whom joined the Avalanche for the final road trip of the season), can slot into the lineup for the playoffs (and remain healthy), the roster is once again stacked from top to bottom, populated by grit and goal-scoring prowess that is tough to play against. And, what’s more, it will mean tons of playoff veterans are back, rested, and healthy, ready for the grind of a lengthy Stanley Cup run for the second straight year. Helm plays a strong game in his own zone and is reliable for defensive play and on penalty kills, and having a lineup stocked with talent and versatility — the latter of which being a luxury the Avalanche haven’t been afforded this season -could be an x-factor in the 2023 Playoffs.

Closing Thoughts

It’s very clear that the Avalanche have a real shot at a deep playoff run. The talent on the roster (taken to the next level this year by the superstars in MacKinnon and Rantanen) combined with its depth and the team’s excellent coach, Jared Bednar, has seen them overcome a ton of adversity this season. But, if these x-factors pan out, they could very well charge to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories.

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