MacKinnon Hellebuyck

The Colorado Avalanche will face the Winnipeg Jets in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start April 20.

The matchup, the first one decided this season, became a reality when the Dallas Stars clinched the Central Division with a 3-1 victory against the Seattle Kraken on Saturday.

These two teams have never met in the postseason.

Home-ice advantage for the best-of-7 series will go to the team that finishes higher in the Central. The Jets (50-24-6) are second, one point ahead of the Avalanche (49-25-7). The Jets have a game in hand.

Winnipeg won all three games against Colorado this season, including 7-0 on Saturday, but who will win the series? That's the question before staff writer Tracey Myers and senior director of editorial Shawn P. Roarke in this playoff edition of State Your Case.

Myers: First, let me say I'm looking forward to this series big time. I won't be a bit surprised if it goes seven games. That said, I'm taking the Avalanche. They're a pretty complete team and loaded on offense. They are No. 1 in the NHL in goals for per game (3.67) and tied for fifth on the power play (24.5 percent). A specific reason for my pick? Two words: Nathan MacKinnon. He's been a man possessed this season, which is saying something given his consistency during his career. He has an NHL career-high 138 points (51 goals, 87 assists) and is one point from tying Peter Stastny for the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques single-season record set in 1981-82. There could be an Art Ross Trophy in his immediate future, a Hart Trophy and another Stanley Cup championship for him down the road. The Avalanche are dominant on offense, a big reason why I think they'll pull this series out.

Roarke: It's rare that a team can outscore its problems in the playoffs. What do they say, defense wins championships? Yes, it does, and few teams play defense better than the Jets, who are the stingiest team in the League when it comes to allowing goals (2.41 per game). I've been driving the Avalanche bandwagon all season, but they couldn't have drawn a worst first-round opponent. The Jets have the best goalie in the Western Conference field, Connor Hellebuyck, who has to be a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL. His .922 save percentage is the best among goalies with at least 30 games. Alexandar Georgiev, the Avalanche starter, is at .897. That's a clear advantage for the Jets at the most important position in the postseason. The Jets are deep on the blue line, led by Josh Morrissey, who should be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy as top defenseman, and have multiple lines that can shut down a top line, even one as good as the one anchored by MacKinnon. They proved that Saturday in a 7-0 demolition of the Avalanche, on the road no less.

Myers: Oh, there's no doubt I have my concerns about the Avalanche goaltending, and those concerns didn't ease with that lopsided loss to the Jets. But much like the Avalanche, who have struggled down the stretch, I believe Georgiev will get it together too. He has a strong defense around him as well. That starts with Cale Makar (speaking of Norris Trophy candidates), who has an NHL career-high 87 points (20 goals, 67 assists) but is pretty good on the defensive side too. After the Jets' win Saturday, coach Rick Bowness said, "We know we're going to see a lot better than that" from the Avalanche in their first-round series. He's right. It's going to be an incredible series and getting the best of Hellebuyck won't be easy, but I think the Avalanche will prevail.

Roarke: The Avalanche got decent goaltending in the playoffs last season when Georgiev had a 2.60 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, but still lost the first round in seven games to the upstart Seattle Kraken. Why? Because the Kraken were a deep team that found opportune offense and could matchup against Colorado's dominant top-six forwards and then win the depth battle. Who does that sound like? The Jets. They might have the deepest set of forwards in the League with 11 having at least 10 goals and 20 points. They also have four defensemen with at least 20 points, but it will be Hellebuyck who will be the difference in this series. He has allowed two or fewer goals in 35 games this season, has five shutouts and gave up four goals in three starts against the Avalanche. It's tough for a team built on offense to win when it can't score goals.

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