A year ago, and with relative ease, the Avalanche swept the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly, the popular former Avs center, was useless in Games 1 and 2 and finished with just three assists in four games. His lack of production was one of the main reasons St. Louis couldn’t get past Colorado, let alone win a game.
O’Reilly, however, is now the main reason the Avs could face the Blues in their next second-round series. Winning the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP is all about resilience and second down success.
And as the respected captain of a proud franchise, he enters the Blues into Game 1 at the Ball Arena.
“Last year we played well against them in the playoffs. This year they rolled a bunch of guys, not just O’Reilly,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.
“We need to contain a lot more guys than just O’Reilly.”
It’s true. O’Reilly is one of three Blues to score five goals in the first-round series against Minnesota — only the 11th time in NHL history that three teammates have done so much damage in a series. But O’Reilly rolls really well, scoring four of his goals on the power play – in pressure situations.
“He obviously has talent. He’s really strong with the puck,” Avs defenseman Josh Manson said. “You have to be smart when you’re around him, around the net. It has a nice finish. Strong on pucks. You have to weigh on him that little bit more. Otherwise, it’s in a hurry and he goes the other way and plays.
“So he’s a dangerous player.”
Nazem Kadri is another dangerous player in the series. But unlike the always cool-headed O’Reilly, the Avs’ second-line center is used to losing his temper in the playoffs.
Kadri’s eight-game suspension for a failed header by Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 of last year contributed to Colorado’s second-round loss to Vegas.
St. Louis has vowed to never forget the hit that forced Faulk out of the playoffs with a concussion. Blues forward Brayden Schenn fought Kadri 40 seconds into the teams first regular season meeting Oct. 16 in Denver, then Faulk fought Kadri 47 seconds into Game 2 on Oct. 28 in St. Louis .
Kadri knows what’s coming in this series. If it’s not a full-fledged Blues fight, the facewashing and tweeting will be non-stop. St. Louis will try to get Kadri to do something that puts his availability at risk.
We could see him settle with Kadri in the first round against Nashville. He wasn’t great – maybe because he was afraid to play on the edge. Bednar repeatedly said that Kadri had a career in the regular season because he valued looks above skill.
While Kadri isn’t fierce and borderline villainous, he isn’t as good at making plays.
Two players from two rosters of 20 players cannot alone determine the outcome of a series of seven hockey games. But I bet O’Reilly and Kadri could become the most important forwards for both teams.