Deen’s List: No. 1 Avalanche prepare for first-round matchup against No. 4 St. Louis Blues

May 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) and center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If you feel like it’s been forever since you’ve seen an Avalanche team this good, then you’re probably right. Because the 2021 Avs are the NHL’s best regular-season team and they’re primed for a long playoff run.

Colorado (39-13-4, 82 points) defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-1 Thursday at Ball Arena to win its last five games, tying the Vegas Golden Knights atop the NHL standings in points. But the Avs have the tiebreaker (35-30 in regulation wins) and hold the No. 1 seed in the West Division and are the Presidents’ Trophy winners for the first time in 20 years.

The last time the Avs won the Stanley Cup was that same year — 2001 — after winning the Presidents’ Trophy. They also did it in 1997 but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Final.

They’ve endured a long 20 years, filled with lottery seasons, draft picks, a coaching carousel and a lot of disappointment.

But to quote Michael Buble: “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day.”

And this new version of the Avalanche has hopes of winning their third Stanley Cup championship in 25 years.

It starts with a series against the No. 4 St. Louis Blues.

The Deen’s List:

Avalanche vs. Blues

Colorado won five of eight meetings against St. Louis but lost the last two on the road two weeks ago. The Blues had a slow start to their season but have rebounded in a big way going 13-2-3 in their last 18 games to clinch the fourth seed in the West Division.

But this is certainly not a team to take lightly. Led by captain Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis won the Stanley Cup in 2019 after starting that season slowly. They got hot at the right time and went on a run. The Avs won’t be an easy task for them but an upset could very much be a possibility.

And if you’re the Avs, you’re very much aware that this is not the Arizona Coyotes of last season. This matchup is going to be a much tougher first round.

Their last meeting

The last time Colorado met the Blues in the playoffs was in the Western Conference Final of, you guessed it, the 2001 Stanley Cup run. The Avs ousted the Blues in five games to set up a final against the New Jersey Devils.

This is the second time the two will meet in the playoffs. But Colorado also ousted the Blues in what many remember as Game 82. The Avs won that game to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in 2018.

Rantanen leads the way

After recording two assists on Thursday, Rantanen climbed to 66 points — one more than superstar center Nathan MacKinnon — to lead the Avalanche in scoring.

Rantanen is the first player not named MacKinnon to lead the team in points since former Avalanche center Matt Duchene did it in 2015-16. Rantanen also led the Avs with 30 goals, which was fifth in the NHL.

Not bad after a poor season (for his standards) in 2019-20.

56 for Kadri

The Avalanche finished the shortened season with just one player appearing in all 56 games.

Center Nazem Kadri scored 11 goals and 32 points in 56 games playing with a number of different linemates throughout the season. This is the third time Kadri has appeared in every one of his team’s games in any given season. He’s done it in an 82-game season just once (2016-17 with Toronto).

Colorado used 32 skaters in all, which includes two (Ian Cole and Greg Pateryn) that have since been traded.

Johansson comes up big

Many people disagreed with Avs coach Jared Bednar’s decision to rest No. 1 goalie Philipp Grubauer in a high-stakes game. But goaltender Jonas Johansson did his part.

Making his seventh start since being acquired from Buffalo on March 20, Johansson helped the Avalanche clinch the Presidents’ Trophy with a 21-save performance on Thursday. It wasn’t the busiest or most challenging night, but Johansson kept it close despite the Avs trailing 1-0 after the first period.

Johansson got the nod in goal after Grubauer made 18 stops in a 6-0 victory over L.A. for his seventh shutout on Wednesday.

He finished his Avalanche season with a 5-1-1 record in seven starts. I’d say that’s pretty good for your third-string goalie.