Can Avalanche team built around Nathan MacKinnon win the Stanley Cup?

This is the best Avalanche team in more than 20 years. But there’s at least an 80% chance this Colorado team, led by center Nathan MacKinnon and defenseman Cale Makar, won’t lift the Stanley Cup, because nowhere in the North American sporting landscape will you find a more heavy-duty challenge.

With the playoffs rapidly approaching in a season billed as championship or bust, could somebody please give Colorado a wake-up call?

With our old friend Matt Duchene scoring the only goal in the shootout, the Nashville Predators recorded a 5-4 victory against the Avalanche on Thursday night for Colorado’s fifth loss in six games.

Chalk it up to boredom if that makes you feel better.

But is Colorado mentally tough enough to win it all?

No team in the league can boast of more top-notch talent than the Avs. They deserve to be the odds-on favorite to win the championship. So what’s the concern? There’s a cruel fascinating randomness to the NHL playoffs, where a hot goalie, the odd bounce or untimely injuries can ruin the best-laid championship plans.

There’s no sweeter agony than cheering for a team to win the Cup. No NHL champion earns 16 victories without blood, sweat and tears, not to mention a moment or two of serious adversity capable of unnerving the toughest of competitors. And these Colorado players have yet to prove they won’t fold under pressure.

From left to right, Colorado Avalanche...

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

From left to right, Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91), Cale Maker, Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nichushkin (13) celebrate MakarÕs goal against the Nashville Predators in the first period at Ball Arena April 28, 2022.

These are the big questions facing the Avs in their quest for the franchise’s first championship since 2001:

Although his 2.52 goals-against average and .922 save percentage have been rock-solid, will Darcy Kuemper still be the second-best netminder on the ice if Colorado faces Marc-Andre Fleury of Minnesota or Jacob Markstrom of Calgary on the Western Conference side of the tournament bracket?

Way back in November, coach Jared Bednar was rewarded with a two-year contract extension, through 2024. Why? His 241 regular-season victories are the most by any coach since the Avs began skating in Denver. The Avalanche, however, has never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs under the guidance of Bednar. Until proven otherwise, it’s fair to wonder if he can make the proper adjustments. After all, his reeling team was knocked out of the playoffs a year ago by Las Vegas.

How sharp will captain Gabe Landeskog, who hasn’t played a minute since undergoing knee surgery in the middle of March, be in the early stages of the playoffs? And let us pray the injury bug doesn’t plague the Avalanche at the most inopportune time. Maybe the Colorado player could least afford to lose is defenseman Devon Toews; the team’s record without him in the lineup is 5-9-1.

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