Varlamov, Avalanche ready for postseason return

Varlamov, Avalanche ready for postseason return
April 17, 2014, 8:00 pm
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(USA TODAY Sports)

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, CSNWashington.com is previewing each of the eight first round matchups.

COLORADO (C1) VS. MINNESOTA (WC1)

For the first time in four years, former Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov will start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Colorado Avalanche open their first round series Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.

The Avalanche, who began the season with a League-best 14-2-0 record and closed out the campaign with an 8-3-3 mark over the final 14 games, went on to win a franchise-best 52 games and the Central Division title.

Varlamov earned 41 of those victories, the most in the NHL this season.

“This is a great goalie, he's very athletic, great side to side," Wild head coach Mike Yeo told reporters ahead of Game 1. “He does a very good job of coming out and closing angles and making himself big in the net. We have to have a real strong focus on putting a lot of traffic in front of him and making it difficult for him to come out and be aggressive on those shots, and also making it difficult for him to see pucks and to control his rebounds. That's playoff hockey.”

While Yeo will be coaching in the postseason for the second time in as many years, Colorado’s Patrick Roy will be making his Stanley Cup Playoff coaching debut.

Roy certainly merits a Jack Adams Award nomination, and could very well be recognized as the NHL’s Coach of the Year after leading the Avalanche to their first postseason berth in four years. Colorado finished 29th overall last season.


THE OTHER END OF THE UNIVERSE: While Varlamov has been the undisputed No.1 goalie in Denver all season, his countryman Ilya Bryzgalov arrived in Minnesota in March in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Bryzgalov also spent time last fall with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers.

No doubt it’s been an unorthodox road to the postseason for Bryzgalov, but the 33-year-old has been on his best behavior since joining the Wild, positing a 7-1-3 record with a 2.12 goals-against-average and .911 save percentage.

FRESH FACES: While a knee injury is expected to sideline Colorado’s leading scorer Matt Duchene for the duration of their first round series, the Avalanche can still count on trio of young forwards in Nathan MacKinnon, 18, Gabriel Landeskog, 21, and Ryan O’Reilly, 23. MacKinnon led all rookies in scoring with 24 goals and 63 points in 82 games.

While the Avalanche have plenty of fresh faces, Max Talbot has provided the team with some veteran leadership since he was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in November. Talbot scored twice in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Patrick Roy is also no stranger to playoff success, having won the Stanley Cup four times as a player with the Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens.


PREDICTIONS:

CHUCK GORMLEY: COLORADO IN 5; ST. LOUIS IN 7; ANAHEIM IN 6; SAN JOSE IN 7

BEN RABY: COLORADO IN 7; ST. LOUIS IN 7; ANAHEIM IN 5; LOS ANGELES IN 6