After sweeping the Predators in the first round, the Avalanche didn’t show any signs of rust in the second round, as they generated more than 100 shot attempts in Game 1 and defeated the Blues in six games. It’s unclear how much time they will have off after sweeping the Oilers in the Western Conference finals, but I doubt the team wants to sit around.
If there was a chance of Nazem Kadri returning in time for the Stanley Cup Final, I would have said time off is a good thing, but now it sounds like he won’t play again this season. That’s obviously a big loss for the Avalanche, but they’re a deep team. Kadri is one of their best forwards, but they’ve been getting plenty of offense from the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog. Mikko Rantanen has been playing better each game, and Devon Toews has chipped in quite a bit too. Players such as Artturi Lehkonen and J.T. Compher have scored huge goals as well. There’s no shortage of talent on this team and all of their stars have shined brightly in these playoffs.
The Avalanche’s goaltending depth has also been showcased, as Pavel Francouz had to come in and secure a sweep for the second time in these playoffs. Francouz put up stellar numbers in the KHL before coming to North America, and he’s been a solid NHL goaltender. Darcy Kuemper did backup Francouz in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, so I expect to see him back in the crease when the Avalanche play for the Stanley Cup, but the Avs know they can rely on Francouz in a pinch. With that said, goaltending is the one area the Avs should be concerned about. They’re going to be at a disadvantage against their Stanley Cup Final opponent, regardless of which team comes out of the Eastern Conference. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin are the two best goaltenders in the world right now, so the East winner will have the edge in goal, but the Avs are superior to both the Rangers and the Lightning in every other way.
On a per 60-minute basis, the Avalanche are generating 70 shot attempts and 4.5 goals in these playoffs, which suggests they’re the best offensive team of the bunch. They’re also the best defensive team, as they have held opponents to just 51 shot attempts per 60 minutes. If they had better goaltending, they would be ahead of both the Lightning and Rangers in goals against per 60 minutes. If the Avs are going to live up to the billing of Stanley Cup favorites, they must continue to outplay teams. Right now, their shot-attempt percentage is sitting at around 58 percent, and it’s going to have to stay there. If they go shot-for-shot with either team, they could get themselves in trouble. I have no doubt the Avalanche can badly outplay the Rangers, but I’m less certain about how the Lightning. Brayden Point might be done for the playoffs, which is something to watch.
If the Rangers make it past the Lightning, the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup chances sit somewhere between 70% and 75%. However, if the Lightning solve Shesterkin and eliminate the Rangers, the Avs’ chances of winning Lord Stanley’s Cup will drop more than 10%.
Both East teams are dangerous, but they don’t have the firepower the Avalanche have — it’s clear the Avs’ superstars, Makar and MacKinnon, are cut from a different cloth. Makar is being compared to Bobby Orr after three rounds of the playoffs, and he has a four-point edge on MacKinnon for the team lead. The last two defenders to win the Conn Smythe Trophy were among the top three on their team in scoring. MacKinnon has 11 goals (six more than Makar), but Makar (+ 170 to win the Conn Smythe) is already being talked about as a possible Hart Trophy favorite heading into the 2022-23 season. Some people that vote on the award are claiming he’s the best defenseman since Orr. That makes him the clear favorite to win the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final.