3 Avalanche Players That Must Perform Against Stars

The Colorado Avalanche haven’t played in a week, after obliterating the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The performance put the league on notice, as they piled up 28 goals in the five games – against likely Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck. The domination was interesting, considering the Jets ripped Colorado in all three of their games during the regular season.

3 Avalanche Players That Must Perform Against Stars

Now the Avs turn their attention to the Dallas Stars in the second round – a team Colorado did pretty well against during the regular season, winning three of four games. The Avalanche notably won both games in Dallas, and came from behind in all three victories. Colorado had 19 different players score a point against the Stars this season – and they’ll need help from everybody to advance to the Western Conference Final. Here’s a look at three players that need to come through for the Avs to dump the Stars:

Valeri Nichushkin

It might not be anything personal for Valeri Nichushkin to face the team that drafted him, especially because he’s not anywhere close to the player that wore a Stars jersey for four seasons. He managed just 23 goals in 223 games across those four campaigns in Dallas, and the Stars unsurprisingly cut him loose before the 2019-20 season. Enter the Avalanche. Colorado signed him off the scrap heap a couple months before the season started, and it’s meant a renaissance for his career.

Nichushkin has put up at least 25 goals in two of the last three seasons, and currently leads the NHL with seven goals in these playoffs alone. He racked up 28 goals this season despite playing in just 54 games. It’s hard to believe he’s the same guy that scored zero goals in 57 games back in 2018-19. That feels like a million years ago, as he’s solidified himself as an incredible complement on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Those two don’t miss much, but Nichushkin has been there to clean up after them when they do.

Nichushkin might be the most important forward for Colorado in its series against the Stars, as Dallas netminder Jake Oettinger looks dialed in once again. The Avalanche are hoping their impressive effort against Hellebuyck carries over, but Oettinger will likely provide a tougher test. Nichushkin will be a vital cog not only scoring goals, but also for creating traffic in front of the net with his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. If he keeps pouring on the pressure and scoring goals at his current clip, the Avalanche could be a lock for the Western Conference Final.

Devon Toews

There are plenty of solid defensemen in this series, but no one might be as important to the overall picture for Colorado as Devon Toews. Sure, Cale Makar is going to pile up a bunch of points and he’s a pretty darn good defender in his own right, but Toews delivers lots of important minutes, too, and is one of the team’s most important penalty-killers. Toews is arguably the best penalty killer on the club, and his play in that area will be paramount to Colorado’s success against Dallas – one of the best power-play teams in the league all season.

During the regular season, the Stars had the sixth-best power play at 24.2 percent. Avalanche fans know how potent the Colorado power play was in 2023-24, and they were just 0.3 percent better than Dallas. The Stars have scored four power-play goals so far this postseason, and are at 28.6 percent in these playoffs. Toews logged the 11th-most minutes on the penalty kill in the NHL this season, and the Avs are going to lean on him once again.

Colorado is notorious for coming back, leading the NHL in come-from-behind victories this season. They even had three in their four games against Dallas. That’s a dangerous recipe to work with in the postseason, especially with Oettinger looking locked in. That means the Avalanche can’t allow the power play to set the Stars up with a lead. Toews scored a short-handed goal against Winnipeg in the first round, and that’s the type of presence the Avs will need in the second round. If he’s in control of the penalty kill, and leads that unit to shutting down a potent Dallas power play, that’s a big step toward another series victory.

Artturi Lehkonen

He’s been a fan favorite since he got to Denver in a trade deadline deal a couple years ago, and Artturi Lehkonen is trying his hardest to replicate his first postseason with the team in these playoffs. In the first round, Lehkonen’s five goals were second on the team only to Nichushkin’s league-leading seven tallies. Lehkonen’s eight points are just one fewer than MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen – who all have nine points. He’s clicking right now, and it’s that kind of depth scoring that Colorado is going to need for another deep run.

Lehkonen played in just two of the regular-season games against the Stars this season, but still managed to put up two goals and an assist. In 14 career games against Dallas, he has six goals and 11 points. That’s the most against any team he’s played fewer than 22 games against. He’s found a home in Colorado, and it’s because his consistency continues from the regular season into the postseason. He wrapped up the regular season with at least a point in eight of the last nine games, and has scored a goal in each of Colorado’s playoff games.

The Avalanche are clearly in a championship window, and Lehkonen played a key role in their 2022 title. His eight goals were tied with Makar for fourth on the team in those playoffs, and he finished with 14 points in those 20 games. MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen are likely always going to make some sort of impact, but it’s going to take guys like Lehkonen to push them across the finish line. They need Lehkonen to continue his current play if they’re going to get back to the Western Conference Final, because that will mean the depth scoring has continued against the Stars. The Avalanche have the pieces to make a run for their fourth championship, but these three players will be critical to their second-round success.

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