DENVER (AP) — The puck hasn’t even dropped in the playoff series against Colorado and the St. Louis Blues have already gotten what captain Ryan O’Reilly labeled a “bad bounce.”
For a second straight day, their leading scorer, David Perron, appeared on the NHL’s “players unavailable due to COVID protocol” list. His status for Game 1 of the first-round series against the top-seeded Avalanche on Monday remains uncertain.
His status moving forward, too.
Perron’s absence would be a big blow for the Blues, who also have two other players on the list in forward Nathan Walker and defenseman Jake Walman. Perron led the Blues with 58 points — 19 goals and 39 assists in 56 games.
“Phenomenal player,” O’Reilly said. “It’s just such a bad bounce. There’s not much you can do about it and we have to stick with it and get through this while he’s gone.”
On the other side of the ice, the Avalanche are getting back one of their top scorers in Nathan MacKinnon, who’s rested and ready to go. He missed four of the last five regular season games with a lower-body injury.
The speedy forward watched last week as his team clinched the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular season record. This from a squad that in 2016-17 — coach Jared Bednar’s first season in charge — finished last with 48 points over 82 games. The Avs had 82 points in 56 contests this season.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot and we’re excited to go out and play,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said.
O’Reilly, who was drafted by Colorado and spent six seasons with the team, raised a few eyebrows with a recent comment.
“We’re going to have some fun and we’re going to beat them,” boasted O’Reilly, whose team won the Cup in 2019.
It certainly didn’t bother MacKinnon.
“We think we can beat them, too, so it’s all good,” MacKinnon said.
This marks the first time Colorado and St. Louis have met in the postseason since 2001, when the Avs beat the Blues in the Western Conference final on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup. That Avalanche squad was led by Joe Sakic, who’s now the general manager and responsible for assembling this roster.
“Every year it feels like we’re a little bit closer, getting better and better as a team,” said MacKinnon, whose team was besieged by injuries in the playoffs last season and lost to Dallas in Game 7 of the second round. “I felt like last year was the first year we had a really, really good chance … and this year it feels the same. Obviously it doesn’t mean anything — we’re playing an amazing team.”
The Avalanche went 5-3 against St. Louis in the regular season, outscoring the Blues by a 26-21 margin. They outshot them 259-219.
“We have a familiarity with them, but I think they can say the same,” MacKinnon said.
The Blues may be moving closer to having back forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s been recently sidelined by a lower-body injury. Coach Craig Berube planned to talk to Tarasenko heading into Monday’s playoff opener to see how he’s feeling.
“It would be nice to have him back, just the presence of him,” O’Reilly said. “He’s a huge piece of this team.”
Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer is coming off a sensational regular season that figures to put in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. He had a career-best 30 wins and a 1.95 goals-against average. Grubauer’s been tough to beat at home, too, with a 13-0-1 mark in his last 14 appearances at Ball Arena.
Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington will try to return to the form that helped the team win the Cup in ’19 (16-10, 2.46 GAA) and forget about his shaky performance last postseason (0-5, 4.72 GAA).
BRING THE NOISE
Both Colorado and St. Louis recently received authorization to increase attendance at home games in time for the postseason.
The Avalanche will welcome 7,750 fans per game at Ball Arena, which is 42.3% of the overall venue capacity. The Blues have been approved for 9,000 fans — nearly 50 percent of Enterprise Center.
Of the 17 players on the Blues’ roster who’ve won the Cup, 16 are from the ‘19 title team, according to the NHL. The other player is left wing Kyle Clifford, who won the championship with the Los Angeles Kings in ’12 and ’14.
The Avs have three players who’ve won: Brandon Saad with the Chicago Blackhawks (2013, ’15), along with Andre Burakovsky and Grubauer, who earned the Cup with Washington in ’18.
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