Colorado Avalanche vs Calgary Flames First Round Series Preview

Colorado Avalanche vs Calgary Flames
CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 09: Calgary Flames Center Mikael Backlund (11) scores on Colorado Avalanche Goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) during the first period of an NHL game where the Calgary Flames hosted the Colorado Avalanche on January 9, 2019, at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The most wonderful time of the year is here. The Stanley Cup playoffs begin and it will bring the matchup of Colorado Avalanche vs. Calgary Flames, which not many people around the NHL expected. The Calgary Flames, just as you “would guess” before the season, are the Western Conference champions and the second-best team in the NHL.

The Colorado Avalanche made back-to-back post-season appearances for the first time since the 2005-06 season. There is a promise of something new to happen because neither of the two teams has much playoff experience as of late. Both teams are very young, skilled, speedy and eager to prove something right here.

Colorado Avalanche vs Calgary Flames

Battle of Inexperience Bringing Hope of Fun

In the past eight seasons, the Colorado Avalanche have made the playoffs just twice. In the last nine years, the Calgary Flames made it to the post-season just twice. The Avalanche haven´t won a playoff series since 2008. Calgary has won one playoff series since the 2004 trip to the Stanley Cup Final, where the Flames lost against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Colorado Avalanche gained just 48 points two seasons ago and made it to the negative NHL record book. In the following season, they made the playoffs but lost in six games to the Nashville Predators. The Av’s couldn’t win any of the tight first two road games but easily claimed Game 3 at home. Game 4 was a different kind of story though. Nevertheless, the Avalanche won Game 5 and staved off elimination. The injury-rattled team lost Game 6 at home in a 5-0 fashion and the Preds made the second round.

In the 2013-14 season, where the Avs accomplished 112 points, they lost in Game 7 at home to the Minnesota Wild in overtime. That´s just the best example of how tricky this series can be for the Calgary Flames. Yes, they have won the Western Conference, but inexperience is there.

The Flames won their last playoff series versus the Vancouver Canucks in six games in 2015. Only four present players remember that series win. Two years later, the Flames made the playoffs again but got swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. They also lost against the Ducks in the second round in 2015 in five games.

Goaltending Issues For Calgary, Not As Much For Colorado

Even though both teams ended up their regular season separated by 17 points, there won’t be many differences between them. If there is something that should bother the Calgary Flames, it is their goaltending. Mike Smith has played in 42 games, while David Rittich has been involved in 45 games.

Smith´s stats in those 42 games aren´t impressive, he had a terrible first part of the season. The veteran netminder has just an .898 save percentage and 2.72 goals against average. On the other side, younger goalie Rittich has a .911 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average. The Czech netminder has been stellar from the beginning of the season, but in his last nine games, he has given up a total of 25 goals.

The 37-year-old Smith has upgraded and elevated his level of play in the second half of the season. In their last regular season game, against the Edmonton Oilers, Smith gave up three goals and he was pretty mad at himself. He knows Calgary has a chance to do something big in the playoffs, but David Rittich will probably be their starting goaltender in Game 1.

Speaking of the mad netminders, Semyon Varlamov was mad about giving up four goals versus the San Jose Sharks in the Av’s regular-season finale. There should be no doubt at all that a resurgent Philipp Grubauer will be the starting goalkeeper for Colorado. In his last 13 starts, the German goaltender is 9-2-2 giving up 19 goals in the process and never being under .913 in save percentage, while recording three shutouts.

The Avalanche Might Become Calgary´s Mile-High Problem

Last season, nobody expected the Avalanche to even make the playoffs. After they shockingly made the post-season, the Av’s took it to the Nashville Predators, who were coming off a 117-point season and the winners of the President’s Trophy. The Preds had a tough time defeating the Avalanche. In Game 6, the Predators closed out that series. Colorado had to play their third-choice goaltender in Andrew Hammond. They also had an important player like defenceman Erik Johnson on the injury shelf.

Right now, the Avalanche are red-hot. Before losing pretty much a meaningless game in San Jose, they were on a 10-game point streak. The Flames lost their closing two games of the regular season, but they played consistently throughout the year. Winning the Conference and playing the second wild-card team should demonstrate how easy this series is going to be for the Flames. But it should be quite the opposite.

The Flames, using the home ice to their advantage, should enjoy a ton of possession. They are the fourth best team in the NHL with a CF% at 53.75, while the Avalanche are 15th best in that regard with 49.48%. Calgary is the second-best team in the NHL in goals scored with 289 (alongside the Sharks), while the Av’s are the 10th best offence with 258 goals scored. In terms of the defence, the Flames are ninth overall with 223 goals against. Colorado is the 16th best defence with 244 goals conceded. This should indicate we will not see a defensively played playoff series (it shouldn’t be boring in other words).

High Power Offences on Both Sides

As already indicated earlier, neither of the two teams should dwell on its defence. Defensively, both Calgary and Colorado had some issues. They had issues in terms of their goaltending as well. There should be no doubt, that Philipp Grubauer is heading into this playoffs series in better shape than Calgary´s goalies. But offensively, although this should be interesting for both sides, the Flames have the upper-hand.

Both Nathan MacKinnon and Johnny Gaudreau have had 99 points in the regular season. Mikko Rantanen (whose status is yet to be known) has missed the past eight games with a rather concerning injury, has recorded 87 points. Sean Monahan has had 82 points, Elias Lindholm has had 78 points and Matthew Tkachuk ended the regular season with 77 points. Colorado´s captain Gabriel Landeskog has tallied 75 points. In terms of offensive production, the Flames have four big weapons compared to the Avalanche´s three.

Let´s not forget the status of Mikko Rantanen, who might not suit up for Game 1 on Thursday. From the defensive part of the lineup, the most productive Flames defenceman was Mark Giordano with 74 points. On the other side for the Av’s, it has been Tyson Barrie, who has had a career season. The Flames just have more of firepower.

Colorado Avalanche vs Calgary Flames Series Prediction

From their last nine head-to-head meetings in the regular season, the Avalanche won just one game. The Flames have swept the regular season series from Colorado during the present season. The best warning sign for the Flames in this playoffs is the Colorado Avalanche. But not necessarily because of the fact they will face them in the upcoming days.

In the 2013-14 season, the Avalanche ended up second in the Western Conference winning their Central Division with 112 points. They met the Minnesota Wild, who gained 98 points that year. Statistically speaking, there was a 14-point gap between those two clubs. Despite taking a 2-0 advantage in the series by the Avs, it was a tight one right until the overtime of Game 7, which was won by the Wild.

Unexpectedly, it is the Calgary Flames now, who are big favorites not only in the series but also in the Western Conference. Prediction? I was never right with any kind of predictions because it´s also incredibly tough to predict.

The Colorado Avalanche win the series in six games.

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