How 'bout dem Avalanche? You really have to admire what Colorado has done this season under first-year coach Patrick Roy. It's hard to believe this squad finished dead last in both the Northwest Division and the Western Conference last season, with only 16 wins in the abbreviated post-lockout 48 games. The Avs only potted 116 goals, 2.42 per game, while allowing 152, 3.17 per game. Right winger P.A. Parenteau led the team in scoring (18 goals, 43 points). This season has seen an amazing turnaround as Colorado has scored an average of slightly over three goals per game, fifth best in the NHL and allowed an average of 2.68 goals against per game, ranked 15th in the league. Parenteau has only played 53 games and is eighth in team-scoring with 14 goals and 33 points.
Colorado boasts arguably the best tandem of centers in the NHL, team-leading scorer Matt Duchene (currently on the IR), Ryan O'Reilly, rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon and former Chaminade Red Devil (a rather strange choice of nicknames for a Catholic college prep school) Paul Stastny. And John Mitchell has stepped in to become a capable and reliable replacement for Duchene. With a resurrected Erik Johnson (eight goals, 35 points, plus-3) patrolling the blue line and rejuvenated goaltenders J.S. Giguere and Semyon Varlamov having excellent seasons, the Avalanche is a force indeed, occupying second place in the Central Division, slightly ahead of the faltering Chicago Blackhawks with home-ice advantage now in their most likely first round playoff meeting.
Since the lockout in 2004, St. Louis and Colorado have played 34 times, with the Avs holding an edge, winning 19 of those games, outscoring the Blues 101 to 95. Only four of those contests went to overtime, with Colorado winning all four. St. Louis has won the last four games in a row, outscoring the Avalanche 16 to 6, including a 7-3 whipping last November in St. Louis with three goals on the power play on four opportunities. Bonus points to those who can remember what shootout expert, a new father by the way, assisted on four of those goals. The Blues also won a November game in Denver, going one for one on the power play (Alexander Steen with the goal) as well as scoring a short handed goal (Jaden Schwartz). The last victory was in Denver around a month ago, Ryan Miller's fourth start for the Blues (and fourth win) as Patrik Berglund's 12th goal of the year was the game-winner. St. Louis was 0-1 on the power play, a total of 4 for 6 in the series. Blues' penalty killers only allowed the Avs one power play goal in 11 opportunities in the three games this season.
The Colorado franchise was born into the World Hockey Association in 1972 as the Quebec Nordiques. In 1972 the Nordiques were assimilated into the NHL when the WHA disbanded along with the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes) and the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes). The Nordiques quickly became one of the worst teams in the NHL. That dubious distinction earned them three consecutive first-overall draft picks, though, which were used to select clever center Mats Sundin (1989), Blues-killer Owen Nolan (1990) and Eric Lindros (1991). Of course, Lindros refused to play in Quebec and was consequently traded to Philadelphia in a blockbuster deal that laid the foundation for future success over the next decade. Going to Quebec were the rights to Swedish sensation Peter Forsberg, goaltender Ron Hextall, defensemen Steve Duchesne (later traded to the Blues) and Kerry Huffman, center Mike Ricci, tough winger Chris Simon, two first round draft choices (one turned out to be Jocelyn Thibault, later traded to Montreal for Patrick Roy) and $15M in cash. The season following the trade, the Nordiques made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and two years later won the division with the second best record in the league
Unfortunately, the smallest market in the NHL struggled financially, and without help from Quebec City to build a new arena, owner Marcel Aubut was forced to sell the team to COMSAT Entertainment Group of Denver during the summer of 1995. Led by captain Joe Sakic (HHoF 1992), drafted 15th overall in 1987, defenseman Adam Foote, drafted 22nd overall in 1989 and goaltender Roy, who came over in December, 1995, the Avalanche went on to win the Pacific Division with 104 points under head coach Marc Crawford. Colorado defeated Vancouver and Chicago in six games in the first two rounds of the playoffs, as well as vanquishing the Presidents' Trophy-winning Detroit in the Conference Finals in six. The Avs then easily swept Florida to win the Stanley Cup, an accomplishment that would be repeated in 2001, this time at the expense of the New Jersey Devils.
The Blues can't mathematically clinch the Central Division tonight, yet a win over the Avs would mean Colorado would have to win all five of their remaining games and the Blues would have to lose more than three of their remaining games, a most unlikely scenario. Look for St. Louis to clinch the division by Thursday at the latest.
The conference championship and Presidents' Trophy may take until the last day of the season to decide, though, with Anaheim close behind in the conference and Boston tied with the Blues, even though St. Louis has a game in hand on both.