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Parley before Playoffs: 7 Questions with Mile High Hockey

We sat down with our counterparts at MHH to talk about the series

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

With the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche set to meet in the playoffs for the first time ever, we sat down with our counterparts over at Mile High Hockey and asked them a few questions about their side before the series. Shoutout to Tom for joining us.

Q1: Colorado had a very up-and-down season, what do you think the turning point was for the Avalanche to make the playoffs?

It was Philipp Grubauer finding his game. After acquiring him from Washington in the offseason, it took Grubauer a long time to get comfortable in a drastically different system. We spoke with him back in the fall and he mentioned being uncomfortable. Fast forward to the trade deadline and he transformed into one of the best in the league - only Ben Bishop had a better sv% from February 25th on. The team had started playing really well through February, so once they started to get the goaltending, they took off.

Q2: If you were the coach of an opposing team, what would be your gameplan for shutting down the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line? (Or at least trying to)

Those three haven’t been playing together all that much over the past few months. Coach Bednar separated them onto three separate lines and it caused some huge matchup issues. Nathan MacKinnon is able to drive possession regardless of who he is playing with but it was the impact Landeskog and Rantanen had on the middle-6 that was the biggest change. Rantanen and Carl Soderberg are a pairing that mesh together perfectly and Gabriel Landeskog was able to finally get Tyson Jost playing at a level Avs fans have been waiting for.

Coach Bednar would always default back to loading up the top line when needed - so most 3rd periods - but then came the injuries. Gabriel Landeskog missed most of March and Mikko Rantanen still hasn’t returned to the lineup after suffering an injury three weeks ago.

If I’m an opposing coach trying to game plan for the Avalanche, I load up to stop MacKinnon - regardless of who his wingers are - and force everyone else to beat us.

Q3: We hear a lot about the big guns on the Avalanche, but who is a guy that we may not know about who could make an impact on the series?

That’d be Big Ol’ Carl Soderberg. He finished fourth on the team with a career high 23 goals and he did so while being deployed as a shut-down center. He seems to make an impact on nearly every shift while taking away a ton of space from the opposition in all three zones.

Q4: Phillip Grubauer was one of the league’s top goaltenders for the final few months of the season, but we saw how he struggled last year with Washington in the playoffs after a similar hot finish. If he falters in the first game or two, how long do you think his leash is before they may turn to Semyon Varlamov?

I think the net is Grubauer’s throughout the entire series unless they get blown out in the first three games. This is his net now - and in the future. Varlamov is a UFA this summer and it has become evident that the team views Gruabuer as their goalie of the future so they’re going to run with him.

Q5: Calgary native Cale Makar looks like he’ll be joining the Avalanche at the end of his college season (likely around Game 3), do you think he’ll actually suit up? Also, how excited are you about him and your pending Top 4 pick this summer?

Ask me about that pick again after the draft lottery tonight.

As for Makar, there is the train of thought that the team would be better off signing him to an ATO so he can play with the Eagles in the AHL playoffs before joining the team on an ELC in the summer. This course of action would also make him exempt from the expansion draft so it’s something the Avalanche should be considering. That said, if Makar tells the team he wants to sign the ELC right away, they will and he’ll be in the lineup for Game 3. He has been absolutely dominant this season and seeing the way Quinn Hughes had an immediate impact in Vancouver should give Avs fans all the confidence in the world that their prized prospect can do the same.

Q6: Give a reason why you think the Flames could win the series. Give a reason why you think the Avs could win the series.

The Flames would win because of depth. The Avalanche have the best player in the series but there’s a huge gap when you look at the lineup after MacKinnon and the other two All Stars.

As for the Avs, if Philipp Grubauer drastically outplays Mike Smith - something that is very possible (likely?) it will mitigate the difference in talent up front.

That or Nathan MacKinnon goes Beast Mode - when he is at his peak there isn’t a player in the league outside of Connor McDavid that can skate with him. He leads the NHL in offensive zone time of possession per game and has a knack for putting his teammates on his back and willing them to a win.

Q7: And finally, your prediction?

I think this series is going to be a lot closer than many expect but in the end it’ll be Calgary in 7.