In 2017, the Colorado Avalanche finished with the worst record in the NHL. Since that point, it’s been a steady ascension up the standings that has seen Colorado make the playoffs in five straight seasons and finish with a top-3 record in three straight seasons. These are the second straight playoffs in which the Avalanche have entered as sizable favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
However, the second round of the playoffs has been a problem for these Avalanche. They’ve lost in the second round in three straight years, falling to San Jose in 2019, Dallas in 2020 and Vegas last season. Colorado has not advanced to the conference final since 2002. For reference, that team featured the likes of Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and Milan Hejduk. It’s been a while.
The Avalanche will look to put an end to the second-round failures this year against a familiar opponent in the St. Louis blues. These teams met in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, with Colorado sweeping St. Louis while outscoring them 20-7 over the four games. Oddsmakers are expecting a similar result this year, with the Avalanche installed as a -350 favorite to advance past the Blues.
How these teams got here
It was another banner year for the Colorado Avalanche during the regular season, as they finished with 119 points, the best record in the West and the second best record in hockey. They did this while having many key players miss parts of the season and almost never icing their complete lineup. While the underlying metrics might not have been as dominant as they were a year ago, Colorado still finished in the top-third of the league in most significant metrics on both sides of the ice. They also clearly have the talent level to outperform their metrics.
The first round was about as close to a bye as you can get in the NHL playoffs for Colorado. While Nashville did a commendable job in keeping some of the games close, the Avalanche completed the sweep and outscored the Predators 21-9 over the four games. Colorado played to a 61.9% expected-goal rate in the first round as per Natural Stat Trick, the second most dominant performance of the first round. The Avalanche allowed just 1.9 expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5, the best mark of any team. The powerplay scored on nearly 44% of their opportunities. Cale Makar had 10 points in the first round in just four games and is currently the co-favorite to win the Conn Smythe alongside teammate Nathan McKinnon.
On the other side, the St. Louis Blues also had themselves a solid season. They finished with 109 points, which ranked third in the division, fourth in the conference and ninth in the league. The Blues roster featured nine 20-goal scorers during the regular season, offering a window into how deep this team is in terms of impactful forwards. While the analytics don’t love the Blues, they do a good job of creating high quality chances. St. Louis scored just one less goal than Colorado during the regular season.
The Blues discarded of the Minnesota Wild in six games in Round 1 in what many had as one of the more intriguing opening series. Special teams were a large reason for the Blues win, as they scored on over 30% of their powerplays and killed over 83% of Minnesota’s opportunities. The series swung in St. Louis’ favor when coach Craig Berube turned to Jordan Binnington prior to Game 4. The Blues were down 2-1 in the series, but Binnington came in and rattled off three straight wins, allowing just five goals in the process. St. Louis had just a 42.6% expected goal rate in the series at 5-on-5, but they’ve been defying analytics all season.
What to watch for in the series
It’s safe to say that the 2022 version of the St. Louis Blues is much better than the 2021 version that got swept by Colorado in Round 1. The 2021 Blues finished with more losses than wins in the regular season when you account for overtime losses and were basically just a mediocre group that benefitted from no real competition during the weird, pandemic-shortened divisional set-up of a season. This year’s group is an actual good team that finished with 49 wins and a top-10 record in the league.
However, it’s also fair to say that this Colorado team might be better than last year’s outfit as well, which is unfortunate news for the Blues. The biggest difference between this Colorado team and last year’s is the goaltending. Philipp Grubauer was solid for the Avalanche in 2021, but Darcy Kuemper has played at an elite-level for most of this season and ranked top-5 in many goaltending metrics. Grubauer was often viewed as the weakest link on last year’s team, and it’s hard to say that about Kuemper.
Speaking of goaltending, it’s also a main focus for the Blues. Jordan Binnington will enter the series as the starter, and for good reason after his performance in Round 1. For those unfamiliar with Binnington, he took the league by storm in his rookie season, taking the Blues from last-place to Stanley Cup champions in 2019. However, his three regular seasons since then have been average at best, and he lost his starting job to Ville Husso this past season. Husso started the first three games of the playoffs before the Blues went to Binnington.
Binnington struggled in the playoffs last year against Colorado, stopping under 90% of the shots he faced and allowing over 3.5 goals per game on average. If that happens again in this series, expect Berube to be just as quick in going away from Binnington as he was in making the switch in the first place. However, we’ve also seen what Binnington is capable of when he goes on a run, and St. Louis will likely need that type of goaltending performance to make this a series.
Up front, it’s a battle of star-power against depth. St. Louis doesn’t feature anyone with the game-breaking ability of Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen. Even guys like Gabriel Landeskog and Nazem Kadri would likely be top forwards in St. Louis. However, the Blues have the edge when it comes to forward depth. Nine different St. Louis forwards scored 20 goals during the regular season. One night it could be Vladimir Tarasenko, the next night Pavel Buchnevich and then the next night it could be Jordan Kyrou or Robert Thomas for St. Louis.
However, what makes the Avalanche such significant favorites is the discrepancy between the team’s defensive units. Colorado has arguably the best defenseman in hockey in Cale Makar. His partner, Devon Toews, would likely be the No. 1 defenseman on 20+ teams in this league. The top guys for the Blues, Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk, are closer to the secondary options on Colorado’s defense such as Samuel Girard, Bowen Byram and Erik Johnson than they are to Makar and Toews.
St. Louis is also dealing with a lack of depth on the backend, an issue exasperated by potential injuries. Torey Krug looks to be out for the start of the series, and Marco Scandella’s status is in question. The Blues played seven defensemen in a lot of their opening round win, and they might need to do the same in Round 2. Lesser known guys like Niko Mikkola, Calle Rosen and Scott Perunovich might be tasked with playing a key role in this series, and that could be an issue against an explosive team like Colorado.
How to bet the series
Unsurprisingly, the Colorado Avalanche are significant -350 favorites to defeat the St. Louis Blues in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Colorado is the current Stanley Cup favorite at +200 and have an advantage in this series from any angle you want to look at: regular season performance, underlying metrics, high-end talent and goaltending.
Oddsmakers view the most likely result in this series as a gentleman’s sweep, with Colorado winning the series in five games paying out at +290. Colorado is a -175 favorite to win the series in six games or less, while the Blues are +140 to at least force a Game 7 or win the series outright.
It’s very hard to lay -350 juice in the NHL playoffs, as we saw in the first round how much parity exists in this league and how little these teams are separated by. Even if you dominate a series, you might run into a Jake Oettinger and need to sweat a Game 7 out in overtime. At the same time, you could dominate a series but be forced to play Louis Domingue for five and a half games and end up losing a 3-1 series lead.
At +275, the Blues could be a potentially appealing bet. Those are some good odds, and this St. Louis team has a championship in their recent past. They’re a tough, big team with a lot of forward depth, usually a necessity at this time of year. If you’re interested in fading the Avalanche, you could do worse than a bet with +275 odds.
The most likely outcome is a Colorado win, but there’s reason to believe this series will be much closer than when these two teams met last year. If you expect a longer series, you can bet the series to go over 5.5 games at -135. Hopefully the Blues can make this a fun and competitive series, but the Avalanche are scary and Stanley Cup favorites for a reason.