2021 Stanley Cup West Division Final preview: (1) Avalanche vs. (2) Golden Knights

It was bound to happen. 

Too bad the popcorn has to be popped during the second round as opposed to a later one. 

The complaints, of course, will not quell the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights into submission. After all, both teams had to go through each other at some point if either team had any notions of hoisting the Stanley Cup when it was all said and done. 

While the matchup is certainly worthy of a Stanley Cup Final, it will still be as back-and-forth as you could wager. Who holds the offensive, defensive and goaltending edge, though? And who should pull away with the series win? Well, let’s attempt to find out. Here is my preview between the (1) Avalanche and (2) Golden Knights. 

Offense:

Even if St. Louis was at full strength, I am not sure it would have made a difference, as a combination of speed, skill and sheer shooting talent from Colorado’s side of the ice proved to be too much for goaltender Jordan Binnington and the rest of the Blues’ roster. It has been mentioned before, and it will be mentioned again – Colorado has balance. Everyone saw it from the top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but even the likes of Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky, Cale Makar and Devon Toews received clean looks all over the offensive zone. Vegas, meanwhile, has depth of their own, and it showed during their opening series against Minnesota, as 12 skaters tallied two points or more. 

Spoiler alert – Vegas will need to lean on Mark Stone and Co. to pick up the slack should the series quickly become a shootout. The Golden Knights’ x-factor, however, might be Max Pacioretty (undisclosed), who returned to the lineup just in time to score a much-needed Game 7 goal against the Wild. It is close, but Colorado has more depth on the offensive side, which just barely edges out the momentum Vegas has from their more recent series win.  

Edge: Colorado 

Defense:

I already discussed Colorado’s distinctive upside in terms of youth, scoring and checking from their defensive core. However, as their series against St. Louis illustrated, both the blue-liners and forwards are down to get dirty, even if they are not traditionally known for it. It spoke volumes when the likes of MacKinnon and Landeskog rolled up the sleeves and laid down the checks. The surprising athleticism on this side of the ice certainly came to the surprise of Colorado fans out there, even though Nazem Kadri’s brutal check against Justin Faulk during Game 2 might have put a damper on it (Kadri has appealed the suspension, but the decision has yet to be made). 

On paper, Vegas holds the advantage in terms of sheer blocking and hitting, but health might go against them – three players known for their physical play, including Ryan Reaves, Brayden McNabb and Peyton Krebs, might be a question-mark, as all three have been placed on the COVID-19 protocol list.

Between the youth and the scoring upside, Colorado holds an edge. In terms of the hitting depth Vegas has from top to bottom, they hold a trump card, too. Which significant strength will prevail? Well, if I am being honest with you, I don’t know. 

Edge: Even 

Goaltending:

Philipp Grubauer certainly was a sensation during the regular season and only continued his career season through the first round, as the 29-year-old allowed only seven goals in four total games against the Blues. And how does Vegas counter this threat? Well, they have not one, but two premier goaltenders they can go to in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. However, it was only the former who garnered starts during the first round, as it was all that was needed – in seven contests against the Wild, the 36-year-old Fleury conceded 12 goals and tallied out to a 1.71 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .931 Save Percentage (Sv%) with one shutout. 

In terms of quality regarding Grubauer vs. Fleury, it is a dead heat. When looking at quantity, Vegas holds the edge, as Lehner’s prowess between the pipes holds much more merit than the likes of Jonas Johansson or Devan Dubnyk. This quantitative strength gives them the nod here. 

Edge: Vegas 

Final verdict: 

Giving the edge to one Stanley Cup contender over another is tough, in case it needed to be said. Vegas holds the depth, while Colorado holds the youth. Vegas has the goaltending, but Colorado has the scoring. This was no different during the regular season, as both teams went back-and-forth with winning a game over the other (Colorado held the point advantage, as they went 4-3-1 against the Golden Knights). 

This series will go the distance. You can almost book it. The sheer speed and youth of Colorado’s roster from top to bottom is very, very deep, and expect this to outlast the more technical Golden Knight structure. Two words. Nathan. MacKinnon. 

Prediction: Avalanche in Seven 

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