“All year we battled hard, all year we were even keel. All year, we wanted that home ice advantage … And today we receive the benefit of it.” Patrick Roy told reporters Tuesday. Roy knows home ice advantage looms large in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and no where is it more prevalent than the Minnesota – Colorado series. It’s the only series so far in the playoffs that has seen the home team win every game and the Avalanche hope to see that trend continue in game 7 tonight. This trend is just one example of how competitive this series has been. The suffocating defensive style of the Wild and high flying offense of the Avalanche have gone toe to toe and each has won out when their coach has the upper hand of last change.
MacKinnon vs. Suter
Nowhere is this more clear than when you look at the the numbers of Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon has 10 points in the series, all of which have come on home ice. This is not a coincidence. In Minnesota, Ryan Suter has matched against MacKinnon shift for shift and has shut the star rookie down. In Colorado Roy is able to control this match-up, leading to more offense and in turn more wins for the Avalanche. It is not only the defensemen of Minnesota St. Patrick has to be wary of, but also of their top shut down forwards of Koivu and Parise. To win game 7, MacKinnon’s entire line will have to continue its home ice dominance and put some points on the board. What might help them more than last change is the return of another star forward to the Avs’ lineup.
Duchene and the Power Play
Matt Duchene made his return to the Avs’ lineup in game 6 and made a noticeable difference all over the ice. His game breaking talent aside, Duchene makes the Avalanche a 3 line team again that will pose match-up problems for Mike Yeo and the Wild, especially on the road. Who do you focus on, MacKinnon or Duchene? One of these lines will have the edge over their opposition and it is up to them to take full advantage of it if Colorado hopes to advance. The duo of Landeskog and Stastny have been matched up against the opposition’s best opponents all year so look for that trend to continue. This opens up Duchene and O’Reilly to put their offensive talents to work.
One area Duchene’s arrival made an immediate impact was the power play. The Avs’ lackluster power play has been the difference in the series thus far, going a dismal 2/22 or 9.1%. It is second worst in the playoffs, next to only the goal hungry (and now golfing) St. Louis Blues. In a series that has seen 3 games go to overtime a couple of power play goals could have had the Avalanche in round 2 instead of on the brink of elimination. In game 6 the Avalanche PP went 1/4 with the help of Duchene, and almost put them ahead in the late stages of the third period. It will have to continue to be dangerous tonight to win game 7.
One thing is certain: it’s going to be a tight game. As mentioned, games 1, 3, and 5 have gone to overtime so far this series. The only games decided in regulation have been 1 goal games until a few empty net goals have been tacked on. With the trend of OT falling on odd number games, I would put my money on it happening one more time. In the end, Duchene’s presence will be too much for the Wild to handle and the Avalanche will meet the Blackhawks in round 2.