Avalanche control own destiny in final weekend of regular season
The St. Louis Blues are crumbling and the Colorado Avalanche are doing their part to take full advantage. Just a few days ago, it seemed inevitable that Blues would finish first in the Central Division and the Avalanche would play the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. The only remaining question left to consider was whether the Blackhawks or the Avalanche would earn home ice in the last week of the regular season.
Fast forward one week and keep the Blackhawks talk on hold. In the past week the Avalanche recorded a record of 3-0-1, worth seven points, while the Blues lost four straight and didn’t record a single point. Included in both team’s record the past week is a 4-0 whooping the Avalanche laid on the Blues in St. Louis on April 5. The Avalanche’s surge puts them in first place in the Central Division with 111 points. The Blues also have 111 points, but the Avalanche own the tiebreaker because they have more regulation and overtime wins (ROW) during the season.
Here’s the deal: the Avalanche must get equal or more points than the Blues in the final two games to win the Central Division. The Blues must earn more points than the Avalanche for the division title. The winner of the division will have home ice against a pending wild card team (either Dallas, Minnesota, or Phoenix depending on which teams clinch, as well as the final standing of the Anaheim Ducks) and the team that finishes second will have home ice against the Blackhawks in the first round. Simply put, it all comes down to the last two games of the season, thus making the final weekend of the NHL regular season one with major significance for the Avalanche and the Blues.
The pressure is on and Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy knows the Blues are aware the Avs are cruising. “I guess we’re in their way right now,” Roy told The Fan Morning Show on 104.3 The Fan on April 10, in regard to the developing bad blood between himself and Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “I mean, do you think deep inside, that the St. Louis Blues with three games to do in the season would thought they have to worry about the Colorado Avalanche? C’mon,” Roy said. “I would love to be a little bird and be in (Blues’) offices and say, ‘What the heck is going on in Colorado?’ They never thought there would be a chance they could play (the Blackhawks) in the first round.”
On paper, the remaining opponents for the Avalanche look much more challenging than the two the Blues will face. But with the playoffs starting in less than one week, that might not be the case. The Avalanche will face the San Jose Sharks (107 points) and the Anaheim Ducks (112 points), and the Blues play the Dallas Stars (89 points) and the Detroit Red Wings (91 points).
The main factor in speculating the difficulty of these final games (if there is any real accuracy in speculating in the first place) is to determine the incentive the Avalanche and Blue’s opponents have to play for. If there is no incentive for they team, they will rest their top players. For example, the Sharks have nothing to play for against the Avalanche. They are locked in for a first round matchup against the Los Angeles Kings and are already assured home ice, so don’t think head coach Todd McLellan won’t use this opportunity to rest some of his lead dogs. On the other hand, the Stars have everything to play for against the Blues because they are still in the hunt to snag one of the final playoffs spots. The Ducks still have a shot to win the President’s Trophy (most points in the NHL) which will guarantee them home ice throughout the playoffs, making it less likely they will rest their studs in the season finale against the Avalanche; and the Detroit Red Wings will draw a tough team in the first round regardless, so head coach Mike Babcock will likely decide to give a few of his wily vets a rest in their last game against the Blues.
Roy has reiterated his desire to finish as high s possible in the standings, but like other playoff bound teams he is mindful of keeping his starting goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, fresh for the start of the postseason. “I won’t play (Varlamov) in San Jose,” Roy confirmed to The Fan Morning Show. “I want him to be fresh when playoffs come, and I don’t think it would be a smart decision to play him in back-to-back games,” Roy said, adding that Reto Berra will be the starter in San Jose. “We’ll see where we are against the Ducks. If we are still in a battle to finish ahead of the Blues then we will revisit this one and we will put Varly in,” said Roy.
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