2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Gut check time in Colorado

Published: April 23, 2014, 1:26 am, by Angelo Stambene
Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, leaves the ice after being injured on a hit by Minnesota Wild left wing Matt Cooke. (The Associated Press)

Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, leaves the ice after being injured on a hit by Minnesota Wild left wing Matt Cooke. (The Associated Press)

When Matt Cooke deliberately hit defenseman Tyson Barrie knee on knee, it completely changed the complexion of the series. The Wild went on to take Game Three, and though the Avalanche have a 2-1 series lead, it will have to continue without their best offensive defenseman. Monday night, after the Avs loss, it was reported that Barrie would be out a minimum of four weeks with an MCL injury. Beating the Wild without Matt Duchene was going to be tough, and losing Barrie made the road to the second round even tougher.

During the regular season Barrie tallied 38 points, including 13 goals, in just 64 games, so replacing Barrie’s offensive production from the blue line will not be easy. In three playoff games the 22-year-old Barrie contributed two assists, ranking him fourth on the team in points. Ryan Wilson is expected to take Barrie’s spot, but in the 28 games Wilson played this season, he notched just six points with no goals.

The Avalanche will have to rely even more on defenseman Erik Johnson to continue to shut down Minnesota’s first line, as well as chip in more offensively. Minnesota’s rookie goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, has not let in a goal in more than 90 minutes of play, and the Avalanche badly need to end that shutout streak.

Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper skates around in a timeout. (The Associated Press)

Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper skates around in a timeout. (The Associated Press)

It is absolutely vital that the offense, which combined for nine goals in the first two games, returns to form. The Stastny, Landeskog, MacKinnon line has to be the best line on the ice for either team, and the Avalanche cannot let Varlamov face as many shots as he did in Game Three.

Matt Cooke will almost certainly be suspended for his hit on Barrie, and though Cooke getting suspended would be a small consolation, the Avs cannot turn this series into a blood bath. The Avalanche have to restrain themselves and keep focused. This is still a series that the Avalanche should win, especially with the offense and speed that Roy can put on the ice. As long as the Avalanche play their game and don’t spend as much time in the defensive zone chasing the puck, the Avs can win Game Four and take a 3-1 stranglehold in the series.