Recently, I was able to get an interview with Jeremy Lambert, the Editor of Mile High Sticking, the FanSided Network’s Colorado Avalanche site. Lambert’s Avalanche and our Minnesota Wild are set to drop the puck on round one of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and we thought there was no better time than now to get to know one another and learn what our favorite team needs to do to get past the other’s, respectively.
Here’s what our friend at MHS had to say.
Dakota Case: What’s the injury report for Colorado? Could Minnesota dodge a big bullet with some of the names that are missing from the Avalanche’s lineup?
Jeremy Lambert: Not as bad as it might look on paper. Alex Tanguay has missed all but 13 games this season, so the Avalanche are used to playing without their veteran forward. Tyson Barrie, who was injured in the second to last game of the season, is scheduled to return for Game 1. John Mitchell’s status is in doubt, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t play at some point in this series. Cody McLeod missed the last few games with an ankle injury, but he’s ready to go for Game 1 as well.
Of course the big injury is Matt Duchene. He went down with a knee injury at the end of March and was said to be out for at least the first round, but it’s very possible that he plays if this series goes six or seven games. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post speculates that Duchene could return for Game 4, but I’d say that’s optimistic and depends on how the series is unfolding.
I don’t think Minnesota is dodging a bullet because the Avs have proven all season that, when someone goes down, someone else steps up.
DC: What is the key to victory over the Minnesota Wild?
JL: Get strong play from Semyon Varlamov. He was the Avs MVP during the regular season and might be a Vezina Trophy finalist. He led the league in wins and broke Patrick Roy’s wins record in an Avs uniform. He stole a handful of games for the team and is a huge reason as to why the Avs won the Central Division. He has to keep up his strong play if the Avs hope to advance. This team is going as far as Varly can take them and if the regular season is any indication, Varly can take them pretty far.
DC: Is there a weakness Minnesota can exploit to its advantage to pull out a series win?
JL: I’d have to say the penalty kill. The Avs ranked 24th on the penalty kill this season, which might be surprising given where they finished. Minnesota’s power play was average, ranking 16th in the league, but they have a lot of weapons that can burn the Avs weak penalty kill. The Avs PK was actually better down the stretch when Patrick Roy mixed up his penalty killers, but it’s still an area of concern for the team. If the Wild can win the special teams battle, they can definitely win this series.
DC: Who do you think will be Colorado’s breakout player of the series and why?
JL: Nathan MacKinnon. I’ve loved this kid ever since the Memorial Cup last season. He reminds me a lot of Jonathan Toews, in that, as the moment gets bigger, he gets better. He’s an extremely talented player but his speed takes him to the next level. Things get a little bit tighter in the playoffs, but if anyone can find an opening and make the Wild pay for a mistake, it’ll be MacKinnon. Also, his hockey courage is second to none. Minnesota might try to throw him off his game with extra nastiness, but MacKinnon won’t back down and he’ll give it right back. There’s no rattling this kid, which makes him a dangerous player when he’s on the ice.
DC: Which Wild player do you think should be the highest priority on Colorado’s shutdown list?
JL: Zach Parise seems like the obvious answer, but I’m going with Mikko Koivu. He’s got a lot of experience against the Avs given that the two teams have been in the same division ever since Koivu was drafted in 2001 and he always seems to play well against them. He plays on the same line as Parise so the two benefit from each other, but I think it’s more important for the Avs to shutdown Koivu and hopefully that will result in Parise being quiet as well.
DC: How do you see the series ending?
JL: I’m a sports pessimist by nature. I still find it hard to believe that the Avalanche finished 3rd in the NHL this year and I’m just waiting for the wheels to fall off. But there’s just something about this team that makes me think, “Why Not Us?” A lot depends on Semyon Varlamov, but he’s been up to the task so far and I don’t see why he can’t continue to play brilliant hockey in front of a young and skilled team that knows how to score goals. Avalanche in Six.