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5 Stanley Cup Playoff Questions for the Colorado Avalanche

by Photo of Gil Santos

Cheryl Bradley discusses Patrick Roy, Semyon Varlamov, the Avalanche’s playoff chances and more.

5 Stanley Cup Playoff Questions for the Colorado Avalanche

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday and CHARGED.fm wants to prepare you for playoff hockey. To get you ready, we contacted bloggers for the 16 playoff teams and asked them five questions to give us more insight about the teams they cover. Here is Cheryl Bradley of Mile High Hockey talking about the Colorado Avalanche and their playoff chances.

The Colorado Avalanche are the NHL's most surprising team this season. The Avalanche tied a franchise-best in wins with a 52-22-8 record and 112 points. Who would have thought that the Avalanche, who held the top pick in last year's draft, would win the Central Division over both the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues? It has been an amazing turnaround for the franchise and a lot of the credit deservedly goes to first-year head coach Patrick Roy, who is a heavy favorite to win the Jack Adams Award. Roy, who is one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time, is the exception to the notion that great players don't make great coaches. To further evaluate Roy's impact and the Avalanche's chances for a deep playoff run before things heat up at the Pespi Center, I talked to Cheryl Bradley of Mile High Hockey and here is what she had to say:

1) The Colorado Avalanche have gone from having the number one pick in the draft last year to one of the best teams in the league. Most would give a lot of the credit to Patrick Roy. How has Roy made this team into a winner and who else deserves praise as well?

Roy changed the culture of the team. He created an environment that encouraged dialogue and mutual respect between the players and the coaches. He encouraged the team to adopt a "Stanley Cup winning attitude," ensuring that each game was approached with the belief they could win and the commitment to do so. The locker room became fun again, and it made the boys want to win for him.

You can't overlook the value of certain players, though. The fact that Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Erik Johnson all took huge leaps forward in their level of play was integral to the improvement. Adding in what is sure to become a generational talent in Nathan MacKinnon was also a vital component of the improvement.

Without Semyon Varlamov, though, this team would be a wild card team at best. He's the MVP of the Avalanche season, deserving of the Vezina talk he's receiving.

2) What are your main concerns about this year’s team?

As any Avs fan would say, the biggest concern is the defense. It has been since training camp, and while the d-corps has shown itself to be better than feared, no one will deny it's seriously lacking in top-level talent. The blue line needs a top-2 defenseman to pair with Johnson, allowing Jan Hejda to drop to the second pairing with Tyson Barrie or Nick Holden. That way, the d-men who should be slotted in the bottom pairings can be.

Another concern going into the playoffs is whether or not Varlamov can continue the level of play he's established over the regular season. It's no secret that he's a major reason the Avs are where they are. If he falters, we'll need a resurgence of the old JS Giguere to remain competitive.

3) Who is an under the radar player that could make a huge impact on Avalanche’s playoff run?

He's not quite under the radar anymore, but 22-year-old defenseman Tyson Barrie could definitely be an impact player. Since December, he's proven time and again that he can handle the high pressure moments and come up big when needed. He has a franchise record in OT goals by a defenseman and leads the team with the extra time game winners (3), is tied for third on the team with game-winning goals (5), and has a knack for getting game-tying goals, including the one that helped ensure the Avs would be seeded higher than Chicago going into the playoffs. His ability to remain calm in those situations has many claiming he has ice in his veins, a quality that will serve him well in the postseason.

4) Semyon Varlamov has been exceptional this season and deservedly garnering some Vezina Trophy consideration. Varlamov has some playoff experience, but his numbers aren’t the greatest and he hasn’t been there since 2010. How do you think he will fare this time around?

I don't expect Varly's play to drop off much in the playoffs. He's as fierce of a competitor as you can imagine, and his previous appearances in the playoffs were during his rookie and sophomore seasons (during which he actually posted a respectable .915 save percentage and 2.49 GAA). He's grown since then, physically and mentally, and his work with goaltender coach Francois Allaire has vastly improved his play in the net. Varly now has both the athleticism and positioning he needs to be elite in this league. I think what you're seeing in him is less reflective of a hot ride and more of his true talent level. He reminds me a lot of Jonathan Quick: Quick may have carried the Kings on his back to win the Stanley Cup, but he was able to do so because he's just that good. I expect we'll find Varlamov is also just that good.

5) What is your overall prediction for the Avalanche this postseason?

I expect the Avs to have a convincing first round win and a 6- or 7-game losing effort in the second round. I don't think the defense can withstand the brutal nature of the playoffs for long. Weaknesses will get exposed, and youth and inexperience will take its toll. Anything can happen, though, so who knows?

Cheryl Bradley is the managing editor of SB Nation blog Mile High Hockey. You can follow her on Twitter @cherylcbradley.

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