We’ve been spoiled lately as fans of the Colorado Avalanche. The team hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2017, and for the past three seasons they’ve been one of the top seeds in the Western Conference. And oh, yeah, they won the Stanley Cup in 2022. The team’s dominant core—led by center and Hart Trophy hopeful Nathan MacKinnon, defenseman Cale Makar, and forward Mikko Rantanen—is still intact, so expectations have been high. And for most of the regular season, the Avs lived up to their reputation, flirting with the top seed in the Western Conference.

Then the past two weeks happened. The Avs have been on a serious skid, and when the puck drops at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 21, at Canada Life Centre, they’ll face off against one of the NHL’s hottest teams: the Winnipeg Jets. So, does Colorado have what it takes to course-correct, win, and advance? Of course! Probably. Maybe? Here, we dive into five things you’ll want to know as the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.

It’s been a brutal few weeks.

Coming into April, the Avalanche had a chance to win the Central Division, which would have netted them an easier first-round playoff opponent on home ice. Instead, they’ve gone 4-4-2 over the past 10 games, with two particularly devastating losses in the past week. At Ball Arena on April 13, the Avs were dismantled by the Jets—their first-round opponent—in a 7-0 drubbing. Then, the following night, they blew a 3-0 lead in Las Vegas and lost to the defending-champion Knights 4-3 in overtime. The team finished the regular season with a 5-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on April 18, which was good enough to secure a 50-25-7 record and 107 points. Despite a stretch of bad hockey, they’re still one of the top four teams in the Western Conference.

The Jets are a problem.

Alex Iafallo (9) and Morgan Barron (36) of the Winnipeg Jets fight with Jack Johnson (3) and Brandon Duhaime (12) of the Colorado Avalanche in the first period at Ball Arena on April 13, 2024. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

You’re forgiven if the Winnipeg Jets weren’t on your radar. Although the team has never won—or even reached—the Stanley Cup Finals, they’re looking awfully good right now. Winning seven straight to close out the regular season, the Jets have one of the league’s best defenses, which is anchored by one of the league’s stingiest goalies: Connor Hellebuyck. His .921 save percentage is second best in the NHL (behind the Panthers’ Anthony Stolarz), and Winnipeg’s defense allowed a mere 2.42 goals per game this season, tied for the best mark in the league. On the season, Colorado is 0-3 versus Winnipeg—so if the Avs are going to take this series, they’ll need to crack the formula soon.

Nathan MacKinnon is him.

If anyone can get the best of Winnipeg’s defense, it’s Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche superstar is one of the best hockey players alive, and this year he has the shortest odds to take home the NHL Hart Trophy MVP award for the first time (somehow, he’s never won it before). This season, he scored 51 goals and tallied 89 assists, good for 140 total points—trailing only Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov for best in the league. He’s also been doing stuff like this:

The Avalanche offense is still dominant.

Nathan MacKinnon deserves a lot of credit, but the entire Avalanche offense has been outstanding this season. The team leads the NHL in many skating statistics, including goals per game (3.68), total assists (525), and total offensive points (827). Mikko Rantanen, the Finnish forward who skates alongside MacKinnon, has netted 42 goals and 62 assists of his own this season—good for 104 total points and the eighth-best mark in the NHL. Earlier this season, he scored his 250th career goal.

Goaltending is a major question mark.

Alexandar Georgiev of the Colorado Avalanche tends goal against the Winnipeg Jets. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

For the Avalanche, that is. While Winnipeg has one of the best netminders in the league, the play of Avs’ goaltender Alexandar Georgiev has been a serious cause for concern. In the 63 games he’s played this year, his 3.02 goals-against average makes him 35th in the league (there are only 32 NHL teams). Backup tendy Justus Annunen has a better goals-against average at 2.25 but with only 18 career games under his belt, it’s unclear whether the greener goalie would be able to handle the pressure of the playoffs.

The Avalanche defense overall ranks in the middle of the pack, thanks to another outstanding season by star defenseman Cale Makar, who has an outside chance of winning another James Norris Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s top defensive player. It helps when you can also do things like this with the puck.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.