- The Coyotes will need another big series from Darcy Kuemper
He has been one of the NHL’s most productive goalies since arriving in Arizona two-and-a-half years ago and is one of the biggest reasons the Coyotes were able to get through the qualifying round. He was a rock against the Nashville Predators and has been one of the most impressive players in the return to play. If the Coyotes are going to have any chance of pulling off an even bigger upset in the First Round they are going to need him to be even better against one of the NHL’s most dynamic offenses.
On paper this series looks like a mismatch when it comes to the offensive firepower, the production from each team, and the talent on each roster.
But goaltending is the great equalizer in the playoffs, and if Kuemper can match his — or exceed — his play from the Nashville series it is going to make things awfully uncomfortable for Colorado.
- Taylor Hall gets another shot at the playoffs
Hall has been one of the best wingers in the league throughout his career but has been stuck on two of the league’s worst teams during that time in Edmonton and New Jersey. That has resulted in him just appearing in five playoff games (not including the four qualifying round games this season) to this point.
Now he gets another crack at the postseason, and it could not come at a better time given his status as an unrestricted free agent this season. No matter what he does in the playoffs he is going to be one of the most sought after players on the open market — he is an excellent player, still fairly young — but a big showing here would only help his value and his next contract.
Colorado may have the better looking roster on paper, but with Phil Kessel and Hall the Coyotes have a couple of potential impact players of their own that can change some games. Kessel has always been a big-game player in his career, while Hall is just a couple of years removed from literally being the league MVP.
- The Avalanche are loaded and one of the top contenders in the NHL
This team is on the brink of greatness, not only in the short-term, but the long-term as well.
They already have one of the best rosters in the league with a trio of established stars (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog) and some emerging young stars (Cale Makar, Samuel Girard), while their core is young and signed to team-friendly contracts that give them some huge salary cap flexibility in the coming seasons.
They also spent the past year addressing their scoring depth by adding Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin.
Add in the fact they have an underrated goalie duo in Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer and it is a team that does not have a clear weakness on paper.
- Nazem Kadri’s shot at redemption
Kadri was one of the scapegoats for Toronto’s recent postseason failings when they traded him to Colorado over the summer in the blockbuster deal that sent Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot the other way.
It was not hard to understand why they moved on.
In each of his past two postseason appearances with the Maple Leafs, Kadri ended up getting himself suspended for multiple games in series his team ended up losing in seven games. It is not a stretch to think he could have made a difference had he been on the ice given how good he of a player he is.
He is a great two-way player that can help shut things down defensively while also make a significant contribution offensively.
When healthy, he has been exactly what the Avalanche needed on its roster, giving the team an outstanding second-line center to help take some of the pressure of its superstar top line (MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog).
After taking himself out of two postseason series in a row, he gets a shot to redeem himself with a new team.
He already started that process in the Round-Robin phase with a buzzer-beating game-winning goal to help the Avalanche claim the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
- Prediction: Avalanche in 6
The Coyotes are not going to be a cakewalk here.
They have some forwards that can beat you (Kessel, Hall, Clayton Keller), a great No. 1 defenseman (Oliver Ekman-Larsson), and an outstanding goalie that is playing on top of his game. They can make this series. Having said that, Colorado is one of the best teams in the NHL with no real weakness. This roster is built to win this season and it is going to do enough to advance to the Second Round.
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes
Wednesday, Aug. 12: Arizona at Colorado, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD