2024 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Jets vs. Avalanche

The Hockey Central panel discusses the upcoming first-round playoff series between the Winnipeg Jets and the Colorado Avalanche, illustrating the Jets' dominance in the regular-season series before breaking down the seven-game set to come.

The Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche have been in the same division for 10 years, but we’re about to get the first-ever playoff series between the Central foes.

Even with Colorado’s disappointing first-round loss to the Seattle Kraken 12 months ago, these organizations seemed to be heading in very different directions following Winnipeg’s uninspiring five-game, Round 1 loss to the eventual-champion Vegas Golden Knights in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had a marvelous off-season, making a great trade with the Los Angeles Kings that finally ended the Pierre-Luc Dubois subplot and inking franchise cornerstones Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck to twin extensions the day before the season began. Suddenly, it felt like the clouds parted in Manitoba.

Still, while it’s tempting to say the Jets are playing with house money to some degree, their franchise goalie turns 31 in May and Scheifele just hit that number a month ago. A couple playoff round wins would also likely go a long way toward quelling any questions about attendance in Winnipeg. Remember, while the Jets have been back where they belong since 2011-12, the club has advanced past the first round on just two occasions since returning to Canada.

Colorado, meanwhile, has to be obsessed with hanging another banner to go with its 2022 title. Nathan MacKinnon, 28, is playing at an MVP level; 27-year-old Mikko Rantanen has gone over 100 points for the second consecutive campaign; and 25-year-old Cale Makar is one of the defining blue-liners of his generation. When you have three pillars like that, one championship isn’t going to satisfy anyone.

Jets Outlook: It appears a lot better than it did even a couple weeks ago. From late January to the end of March, the Jets spun their tires with a 14-14-2 record, punctuated by a six-game losing streak that concluded that stretch.

However, Winnipeg has climbed out of that funk by ripping off seven straight wins and clinching home-ice advantage versus the Avs.  

One thing that’s dovetailed with improved fortunes is Gabe Vilardi’s return to the lineup. The winger has had an injury-marred first campaign in Winnipeg after coming over from the Kings in the Dubois swap. However, when he’s been playing, he’s been deadly. Vilardi has five goals in his past eight outings and scored at nearly a 40-goal clip this year when healthy.

He’s one of three serious dudes up front Winnipeg will have in the lineup who were not on the team during last year’s losing effort versus Vegas. The other two, of course, are Cheveldayoff’s significant adds ahead of the trade deadline, centre Sean Monahan and winger Tyler Toffoli. Both players have proven to be dream fits, with Monahan sniping 24 points in 33 games with Winnipeg while centering the second line and Toffoli — who has proven playoff pedigree — kicking in seven goals in 17 contests.  

The hope for Winnipeg — which ranks as a middle-of-the-pack team offensively — has to be that it will finally ice its best lineup come Game 1 of the playoffs. Monahan and Toffoli were late-comers; Vilardi missed half the year with multiple injuries; elite sniper Kyle Connor was out six weeks with a knee injury; even Scheifele missed nearly a month with an ailment. With all those guys ready to rock in the top six, this lineup looks like one that can do some damage.

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Avalanche Outlook: At the very least, there have been some dispiriting losses to key rivals of late. Colorado was pumped 7-0 by the Jets team it’s about to face on Saturday night in Denver. That came not long after the Avs’ chase for top spot in the Central was effectively ended by a 7-4 loss to the Dallas Stars — also on home ice — on April 7. Colorado also blew a 3-0 lead in Vegas in their second-last game of the season and, making matters worse, lost defenceman Samuel Girard in that contest to what coach Jared Bednar later confirmed is a concussion.

To put a meme into words, “Not great, Bob!”

Colorado is 3-5-2 heading into Game No. 82 and has surrendered 4.1 goals per game in that stretch. Obviously things need to improve in a hurry.

Still, when you have a Big 3 of MacKinnon, Makar and Mikko, everybody is taking you seriously as a Cup threat.

The supporting cast, mind you, has changed enormously from the group that lost 2-1 in Game 7 to the Kraken in 2023. The bottom six is basically completely rebuilt, populated by the likes of off-season acquisitions Ross Colton, Miles Wood and deadline addition Brandon Duhaime.

At the top of the lineup, first-year Av Jonathan Drouin would be a favourite for comeback player of the year if the league had such an award. The 2013 third-overall pick has been nearly a point-per-game guy since mid-December skating beside his old major junior pal, MacKinnon.

Throw in a new second-line centre in Casey Mittelstadt and his fellow deadline acquisition on defence, Sean Walker, and there are a lot of guys who will be making their Avalanche playoff debuts versus Winnipeg.

One old face you should not expect to see this spring is Gabriel Landeskog. The Colorado captain — who has not played since lifting the Cup two years ago in Tampa Bay because of knee issues — does not appear to be anywhere close to re-joining the team.


(5-on-5 totals via Natural Stat Trick)


Jets X-Factor: The goaltending of Hellebuyck isn’t so much an X-factor as critical factor. The Jets are certainly banking on high-level play from their stud No. 1 — who will surely be in the running for a second career Vezina Trophy come awards season — it’s just a question of exactly how good can he be.

As the season wound down, Hellebuyck had the best save percentage (.922) of any goalie who saw more than 40 games. Partner Laurent Brossoit also had a fantastic year in a support role, which is why the Jets entered their final game with the best save percentage (.919) in the league.

That Winnipeg will have a goalie advantage in this series seems a given; it’s just a question of how wide the gap will be. Which brings us to…

Avalanche X-Factor: Year 2 has not gone as well in Denver for Alexandar Georgiev as Year 1 did. The 26-year-old lost his batterymate, Pavel Francouz, for the year in November and that has forced him into the kind of workload teams try to avoid for their top tenders these days. Georgiev is set to play more than any other puckstopper this year and while he does lead the league in wins (38), his save percentage sits at .897 and 44 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes this year have a better high-danger save percentage than Georgiev’s .804.

Colorado doesn’t need him to be all-world. But even for a team with championship pedigree, few things are more deflating in the playoffs than not getting a save — especially if you can’t seem to get one by the other guy.

For what it’s worth, backup Justus Annunen had some very solid outings in the final eight weeks of the season.


Winnipeg Jets

Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Gabe Vilardi
Nik Ehlers-Sean Monahan-Tyler Toffoli
Nino Niederreiter-Adam Lowry-Mason Appleton
Morgan Barron-Vladislav Namestnikov-Alex Iaffolo

Josh Morrissey-Dylan DeMelo
Brenden Dillon-Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley-Dylan Samberg

Connor Hellebuyck
Laurent Brossoit

Colorado Avalanche

Jonathan Drouin-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Artturi Lehkonen-Casey Mittelstadt-Valeri Nichushkin
Miles Wood-Ross Colton-Zach Parise
Andrew Cogliano-Yakov Trenin-Brendan Duhaime

Devon Toews-Cale Makar
Sean Walker-Josh Manson
Jack Johnson-Caleb Jones

Alexandar Georgiev
Justus Annunen

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