In what will serve as a flashback to the old Northwest Division days, the Calgary Flames make their return to the postseason with a first-round matchup against the Colorado Avalanche.
The first playoff series ever played between these two clubs which will feature two of the best performing lines in the NHL this season.
In the end, the series could come down to goaltending with four netminders that could see action before long.
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Calgary enters as the favourite with a 3-0 record this season against the Avalanche, but Colorado has been one of the best teams this spring to climb the standings to secure a wild card spot.
Ahead of Game 1 of their first-round series, here are seven things the Flames will need to do to take down the Avalanche.
1. Shut down MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog
Colorado has been labelled a one-line team for much of the season, but what a line it’s been.
The Avalanche have been led by another outstanding campaign from Nathan MacKinnon, who sits tied for sixth in NHL scoring with 40 goals and 98 points.
Mikko Rantanen has established himself as a breakout star with 31 goals and 87 point, while captain Gabriel Landeskog has five points in four games since returning from an upper-body injury.
Calgary’s top priority will need to be containing Colorado’s first unit, who will likely see a lot of Mark Giordano over the course of the series.
2. Keep top line clicking early
While Colorado’s top trio has been one of the best in the entire league, Calgary’s first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm hasn’t been too far behind.
All three have had career seasons, with Gaudreau leading the pack with 36 goals and 98 points to leave him tied in points with MacKinnon.
Following a mid-March dip, Monahan seems to have regained his form with six points in three games and Lindholm has been reunited on the top line after head coach Bill Peters put his depth chart in a blender recently.
Calgary’s offensive success will rely on these three players being able to come out of the gate flying on home ice.
3. Game 1 confidence for Rittich or Smith
It’s the one question mark hanging over the Flames as they enter the postseason, will their goaltending be able to hold up?
For David Rittich and Mike Smith, this season has been full of ups and down with Rittich taking over the Flames net for most of the season while Smith struggled to find his game.
Over the last couple months however, Rittich’s numbers have fallen back to Earth just as Smith has found his footing again to win nine of his last 13 starts.
Whoever gets the call for Game 1 of the series, a strong performance early from the net out should give Calgary some added confidence for the rest of the remainder of the playoffs.
4. Prepare for Grubauer and Varlamov
Like the Flames, Colorado’s goaltending situation has bouncing back and forth between Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer between the pipes.
For most of the year it’s been Varlamov getting the call with a 20-18-9 record, a 2.85 goals against, and a 0.910 save percentage in 48 starts.
However, the Avalanche have turned to Grubauer lately with 11 starts over the last month, with the German winning eight of those contests.
Colorado head coach Jared Bednar hasn’t been afraid to shake things up in the crease, and remember the Washington Capitals began playoffs with Grubauer as the starter last year before switching to Braden Holtby en-route to a Stanley Cup championship.
5. Dominate at the dot
If regular season stats are to be believed, one area Calgary holds a distinct advantage over Colorado is at the face-off dot.
The Flames finished the season third in face-off percentage, winning over 52 percent of the draws they took in 2018-19.
Compare that with the Avalanche, who were in the bottom third of the league in that category with a percentage of 48.3.
Especially in defensive zone starts, the Flames will likely rely on Derek Ryan to shoulder much of the load as he ranked fourth in the entire NHL with an individual face-off win percentage of 57.8 percent.
6. Limit Colorado’s power play
Calgary will also be facing Colorado’s three-headed monster on the penalty kill this series, which could be a deciding factor in the final outcome.
Colorado’s power play has been deadly this year, netting 63 goals on the man advantage to rank the team seventh in the NHL at 22.2 percent.
MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog have combined for 38 of those goals and have all spent over 300 minutes of time on the power play this season.
The Flames, who ranked 18th in penalty kill but did lead the league with 18 shorthanded goals, will also need to keep an eye on puck-moving blueliner Tyson Barrie who scored 25 of his 59 points while up a man.
7. Drawing penalties
On the flip side, the Flames could take the series if they are able to get their own power play clicking against an Avalanche team that had trouble staying out of the penalty box.
Colorado was booked for 270 penalties over the course of the season, just one fewer than the Anaheim Ducks who led the entire league in penalties taken.
Operating at just 78.5 percent on the penalty kill, the Avalanche are bottom 10 in the league and have still been prone to taking a few too many penalties.
All five members of Calgary’s top power play unit in Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Giordano, and Matthew Tkachuk reached the 20-point mark in power play points this season.