The St. Louis Blues are all set to play the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is a rematch of a first-round series last season, which the Avalanche swept, but this should be a much different series this time around.
The Avalanche nearly won the Presidents’ Trophy this season but were caught by the Florida Panthers to win it. The Blues made vast improvements to their lineup and find themselves in a much better position than they were just one year ago.
The Season Series With the Avalanche
The Blues went 1-2-0 against the Avalanche this season, but the games were closer than many may think. They beat them in the season opener 5-3 after they got a two-goal effort from David Perron and points from 11 players. The Blues lost 4-3 to the Avalanche in late October and nearly came back in a 5-3 loss on April 26.
Overall, the Avalanche outscored the Blues 12-11 in their season series and the Blues held Cale Makar to only one goal in three games. It’s going to be difficult for the Blues to contain the Avalanche’s offensive attack, but I have much more confidence in their ability to do it this season.
Matchup #1: Both Teams Pack a Major Offensive Punch
Two of the top four teams in the NHL at scoring goals this season were the Avs and Blues, finishing third and fourth respectively. The Avs had seven 20-goal scorers, while the Blues had nine. Depth is not an issue for either of these teams, and an argument could be made that the Blues are one of a few teams with the depth to keep up with the Avs.
The Avs have a brilliant top line and a couple of other good lines to go along with it. They have the star power that is needed to be viewed as a juggernaut team. The Blues don’t have an overwhelming forward line, but they have three good lines and have gotten contributions from Alexei Toropchenko and Tyler Bozak when playing seven defensemen.
The Avs had their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog all score 30 goals. The Blues got 30 goals each from Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko, and both play on the same line. Both teams have multiple under-the-radar forwards that can have a major impact on the series. For the Avs, I’d look at Andre Burakovsky, who had 22 regular-season goals and nine playoff goals since 2020. With the Blues, they need Ivan Barbashev to be what he was in the regular season when he had 26 goals.
Verdict: The Avs hold a slight advantage over the Blues
Matchup #2: The Avalanche Have Makar, the Blues Don’t
There is a lot more to the Colorado blue line than a superstar like Makar, but he could end up being the best offensive defenseman of all time. Not often does a defenseman score 28 goals and 86 points, but that’s what Makar did in 77 games this season.
Not to speculate, but it would be surprising to see Marco Scandella or Torey Krug return for the Blues in this series. They proved that they can be successful when playing seven defensemen, and I expect that strategy to be rolled over into this series. The re-emergence of Scott Perunovich and the steadiness of Nick Leddy have helped the Blues be better on the back-end. Leddy has become quite the trade deadline pickup for general manager Doug Armstrong.
The Avs have a tremendous unit around Makar, with Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, and Erik Johnson all being solid. Toews had a great regular season with 57 points, proving that the New York Islanders were wrong to trade him. Their blue line is dynamic at moving the puck and responsible in their own end, a combination that leads to winning games. It’s easy to forget about Bowen Byram, the fourth overall pick in 2019, but he’s also a stud when healthy. Their blue line is loaded with an enormous amount of talent.
The Blues will need more quality and heavy minutes from Justin Faulk and Colton Parayko to have a chance in the series, and staying healthy will be the next biggest priority.
Verdict: The Avs have a large advantage over the Blues here
Matchup #3: The Battle of Goaltenders
On the surface, this appears as much more of a one versus one battle with Darcy Kuemper and Jordan Binnington. But Pavel Francouz played minutes for the Avs when Kuemper had an injury in the first round and Ville Husso is ready to go if Binnington falters.
In three games against the Nashville Predators in the first round, Kuemper saved 57 of 61 shots for a save percentage (SV%) of .934. Before getting an accidental stick to the eye in Game 3, he proved that he is up to the task of playoff hockey and he delivered with those numbers.
As for Binnington, he started the final three games of the first round for the Blues, posting a .943 SV% with 83 saves on 88 shots. He’ll obviously face a much more dynamic attack with the Avalanche, but it seems as if he got his confidence and swagger back. Both of those things were on display during the 2019 Cup run, where he robbed the Boston Bruins of multiple goals in the first period of Game 7. This is a close call, but one team has a Cup-winning netminder and the other doesn’t.
Verdict: Binnington edges Kuemper in a close call
The Series Prediction
I fully expect this series to be closer than the four-game sweep last season, but the final result likely remains the same. The Blues have a great team this season, but the Avalanche are a juggernaut and they are not likely to be denied this time around.
Prediction: Avalanche defeat the Blues in five games
It may seem like I expect a blowout by saying Avalanche in five games, but I expect the series to be a tight one. I believe that most Blues fans would view this season as a success if the Blues fight hard and make this series close, winning a Cup takes the pressure off of franchises. Not to say that the expectation isn’t winning a Cup, but the blow becomes a bit easier when remembering the brilliant run in 2019.
I have been covering sports for nearly a decade. I started with FanSided as a Baseball Contributor. Now I am writing about the NHL and the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers. I grew up in Central Illinois as a huge fan of every sport. Finally, I do various podcasting across all major platforms.