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2014 NHL playoffs preview: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche Don't expect goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) and the Avalanche to wilt under pressure. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

By Brian Cazeneuve 

Regular-season recaps

Nov. 29: Avalanche 3, Wild 1

Nov. 30: Avalanche 3, Wild 2 (SO)

Dec. 14: Wild 2, Avalanche 1 (SO)

Jan. 11: Avalanche 4, Wild 2

Jan. 30: Avalanche 5, Wild 4

Notable injuries

Avalanche: F Matt Duchene (bruised knee, likely out for series), D Jan Hejda (upper body, day-to-day), F Alex Tanguay (hip surgery, out for season), D Cory Sarich (back spasms, day-to-day)

Wild: G Darcy Kuemper (upper body, day-to-day), G Josh Harding (complications from multiple sclerosis, day-to-day), Nicklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery, out for series), F Jason Zucker (quadriceps, out for series)

Keys to a Wild victory

Who could have foreseen Ilya Bryzgalov becoming a model of stability? Yet the eccentric netminder has returned from his interplanetary wanderings to stabilize what had been a nagging problem for Minnesota after the losses of goalies Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper. The Wild can be competitive in this series by slowing it down -- creating whistles by having Bryzgalov cover the puck, or resorting to phantom equipment issues on the bench. Colorado is very deep up front, and benefits from a fast pace and frequent line changes. The Avs will try to do everything at top speed. Minnesota must thwart them by cluttering the neutral zone and keeping them off rhythm.

Keys to an Avalanche victory

Colorado surrenders too many shots per game (32.7) for its own good. The Avalanche are counting on goalie Semyon Varlamov to shoulder a heavy burden. He did that during the regular season, stopping 1,867 shots, 142 more than any other goalie, and broke the club mark for wins in a season, with 41, which put him ahead of coach Patrick Roy. The enthusiasm of Roy, in his first year behind the bench, has rubbed off on his players, who see him as a supportive and willing sounding board, and not the combustible crazy man who attacked the glass in the club’s first game of the season. The Avs went from 29th in the league to third in just one season, and a lot of the credit goes to Roy for the confidence he instilled in his young team. That's a good thing; Colorado must stay positive during its first playoff experience.

X-factors

The pick

Avalanche in 5: The Wild have not won a playoff series since 2003, and that's not likely to change this year. If anybody thinks that Colorado will wilt under the pressure of heated contests, consider that, in one-goal games, when the action naturally intensifies, the Avs had the NHL's best winning percentage in 2013-14. Holding leads? Colorado was 35-0-3 this season when it led entering the third period. Those are not the signs of a team that panics, no matter its inexperience. It is also a big help that six different Colorado forwards scored 19 goals or more. The Avalanche scored 16 goals in five regular-season games against Minnesota, and that was without netting a single power-play goal. Colorado should break that slump this week.

Series schedule

Game 1: April 17, @ Colorado; 9:30pm (CNBC, TSN)

Game 2: Apr. 19 @ Colorado, 9:30pm (NBCSN, TSN)

Game 3: Apr. 21 @ Minnesota, 7pm (NHLN U.S., TSN)

Game 4: Apr. 23 @ Minnesota, 9:30pm (CNBC, TSN2)

*Game 5: Apr. 25 @ Colorado, time TBD (TSN)

*Game 6: Apr. 27 @ Minnesota, time TBD, (TSN)

*Game 7: Apr. 29 @ Colorado, time TBD (TSN)

MUIR: Eastern storylines to watch | Western

More series breakdowns: Bruins-Red Wings | Stars-Ducks | Blackhawks-Blues

Penguins-Blue Jackets | Lightning-Canadiens | Rangers-Flyers | Kings-Sharks

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