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Internet Hotstove: Colorado Avalanche

Internet Hotstove is a series where Last Word On Sports asks the opinions of respected bloggers from around the internet about their team’s chances in the 2013-14 NHL Playoffs. The goal is to get a broad view of opinion from around the league as an alternative to other playoff previews.

Under Patrick Roy the Colorado Avalanche surprised just about everyone in the league by winning the Central Division, the deepest in the league. The team also finished third in the NHL, a far cry from where most experts would have predicted before the season. But in doing so they have proved that they are a young force to be reckoned with in the next few years. In Nathan Mackinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene, the Avalanche have a core that will make them dangerous for years to come. It will also make them incredibly dangerous in this year’s playoffs.

Meet the blogger:

Payton Bartee- Author at MileHighSticking.Com @ptbartee

Internet Hotstove

1. Who is Colorado’s playoff X-factor?

There are many guys who would be a worthy selection here (MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Paul Stastny), but I’m going with Ryan O’Reilly. The 23-year-old really solidified himself as a core part of this team this season (after a somewhat rocky contract situation and his status as the after-thought third center behind Duchene and Stastny). Moving to Left Wing could prove to be a career changing move, and immediately looks like the right call by Coach Patrick Roy. Avs fans knew he was a Selke-caliber defensive forward to start the year, but he has wowed the fan-base with his goal-scoring ability this season. O’Reilly reached career highs in goals and points, while adding a stealthily efficient offensive output to his already steady defensive two-way game. Winning playoff teams need forwards who can contribute in all facets of the game and do all the little things well; O’Reilly can do all of that as well as light the lamp.

2. This is a very young team, how important is the playoff experience they will gain from these games going forward?

The most dynamic players on the team are also the youngest, so questioning their playoff readiness is legitimate. But after watching this team play the tenacious, blitzkrieg style of play Coach Roy envisioned for nearly every game this season, I think this team wants to continue shocking the hockey world. These players are very young, but they are also very talented; they don’t believe they’ve overachieved this season. Their mantra this season has been #WhyNotUs, and the players really believe that. It’s also crucial that several members of the coaching staff have invaluable playoff experience, and will contribute in preparing the team for the first round and beyond. Coach Roy will have the right message and tone to motivate this hungry team.

 3. What has Patrick Roy brought to the table that has made this team so successful?

More than anything, Coach Roy has brought an organized energy to this team’s youthful collection of talent. From day one, the players genuinely bought into Roy’s style of play, and it shows–their speed and ferocity makes their fore-checking one of the league’s best, and masks a somewhat shaky (at times) defensive corps. Coach Roy has also been instrumental–along with goaltending coach Francois Allaire–in bringing out the consistency we hoped was inside of Semyon Varlamov. Varly flashed elite talent and athleticism in both Washington and his first few years in Colorado, but Roy and Allaire have coached him up to be the shutdown, thoroughbred goalie this team sorely needed.

 4. What is the Achilles heel of this team?

As it has been all year, the defensive play of the Avalanche defensive corps simply needs to be more consistent. Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Nick Holden deserve credit for breaking through offensively, but this group as a Top 6 does not match up well with other playoff teams’ depth and talent on the blue line. Avalanche fans need to be saying their nightly prayers that Jan Hejda’s hand injury and Tyson Barrie’s “upper body” injury are not serious. Otherwise, we’ll be relying on the likes of Ryan Wilson or Stefan Elliott to log important playoff minutes. Adding more Top 6 talent to the back end simply has to be a top priority for the Joe Sakic & Co. this summer.

 5. How far do you see the Avalanche going in the 2013-14 playoffs?

The Avalanche definitely have a great chance to win their first-round series with the Minnesota Wild. The team went 4-0-1 against them during the regular season, and they match up well with Minnesota compared to other Western Conference playoff teams. The Wild have a very solid group of offensive forwards—Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson and more are threats every game.Varlamov will need to be his usual stellar self, and the Avalanche defense must limit shots from the Wild offensive playmakers (as well as Ryan Suter). However, with the sudden rash of Avalanche injuries (Hejda, Barrie, Willie Mitchell), and still no Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Stastny, MacKinnon, and PA Parenteau will have to carry the load offensively if this team is to progress deep into the playoffs. I see them winning their first round series, matching them up either the St. Louis Blues or the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks; either one of those teams could be considered a coin-toss series against the Avs.

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