Mikko Rantanen has a ton of playoff superstitions.
“But I’m not going to go into them,” the Colorado Avalanche forward cautioned.
You know, because he’s superstitious. And because he doesn’t want to jinx things since they worked so well last season.
Rantanen and the Avalanche are trying to join the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins on the list of teams that have captured back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in the salary cap era (circa: 2005).
They know all too well the long road that awaits. The grind. The toll. A shorter offseason should all go well.
Worth it, of course.
Won’t be easy, though, especially with captain Gabriel Landeskog sidelined by a lingering knee injury that’s kept him out all season.
Also, there’s this: “A target on your back,” said Rantanen, whose squad kicks off their title defense Tuesday in a first-round series against a second-year franchise in the Seattle Kraken. “But we feel good. Our energy levels feel good. We’re not tired. We’re ready to play for hopefully two months. That’s our goal.”
It was an injury-riddled regular season for the Avalanche after hoisting their third Cup in franchise history last June. The team used 43 different players this season, which is the most since the franchise moved to town before the 1995-96 season.
“Obviously, we’re not the same team (as last season), but we’re very similar,” said defenseman Josh Manson, who was limited to 27 games this season due to injuries. “Are we going to win the same way and with the same type of style? I’m not sure. We’ll see as we go here.
“But I don’t think that means that we doubt the room just because we’re different than last year. We’re going to have to play to our style and with confidence.”
Leading the way on offense for Colorado will be the duo of Nathan MacKinnon (111 points) and Rantanen (105). They’re the first Avalanche teammates to surpass 100 points in the same season since Peter Forsberg (116) and Joe Sakic (120) in 1995-96.
“With Landy being gone, we’ve got to step up even more,” said Rantanen, who scored an Avalanche-best 55 goals this season.
Colorado draws a Kraken team that’s made immense improvement this season. They notched 19 more wins and 40 more points in Year 2.
“We’re not going to change a whole lot,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’ve got to be the best version of ourselves.”
This may be the first time the Kraken venture into the postseason, but they do have a significant amount of playoff experience on their roster. Yanni Gourde, Justin Schultz, Vince Dunn and Jaden Schwartz have won Stanley Cup crowns. Goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones, too. Jordan Eberle has 62 career playoff games under his belt.
“Short-term memory,” Dunn said of what he’s learned about playing successful postseason hockey. “If you have a (bad) shift forget about it, move on, find a way to fix it. Don’t go for home runs every shift. Just chip away at it, trust the system.”
A franchise making its postseason debut against a defending Stanley Cup champion doesn’t happen all that often. This will mark the fifth time in league history, with the Kraken joining Columbus (2009 against Detroit), Washington (1983 versus the New York Islanders), Hartford (1980 against Montreal) and the New York Americans (1929 against the New York Rangers), according to NHL Stats.
On Saturday, the Kraken will host their first playoff game. But Seattle was once home to the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The team played the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup in 1919. Both won two — and tied another — in a series that was halted by the influenza epidemic, according to NHL research.
While Seattle and Colorado won’t begin hostilities until Tuesday, four other series get underway tonight.
BOSTON BRUINS VS FLORIDA PANTHERS
Alex Lyon started this season in the American Hockey League. He actually wasn’t even eligible for the opening two games of the season down there, since he had to first serve a suspension for excessively celebrating a championship in the minors last year.
And now he may be the goalie the Florida Panthers will bet on to start the Stanley Cup playoffs — against the team that just posted the best regular season in NHL history, no less.
Lyon — as had been expected — was announced as Florida’s pick to be the starting goaltender for Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series against the Boston Bruins on Monday night. It’ll be Lyon’s NHL playoff debut.
The Bruins, who went an unheard-of 65-12-5 in the regular season and won their last eight games even with nothing left to play for, now await.
EDMONTON OILERS VS LOS ANGELES KINGS
Leon Draisaitl was a prolific, post-season playmaker for the Edmonton Oilers even with a high-ankle sprain less than a year ago.
If the big centre can stay healthy through the 2023 NHL playoffs, the No. 2 in Edmonton’s potent one-two punch can pack an even heftier wallop.
Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Draisaitl scored an astounding 116 goals and compiled 281 points between them, including a combined 53 power-play goals, during the regular season.
It’s a tall order for opposing teams to contain one, let alone both. Still, star LA defenceman Drew Doughty can’t help but focus on McDavid, coming off the best individual NHL season in years.
“I love the moment. I love the challenge,” Doughty said. “Everybody knows how good he is and how hard he is to shut down.
DALLAS STARS VS MINNESOTA WILD
Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson is quick to point out that while he finished second behind Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov for the Calder Trophy, it wasn’t even a close vote to determine the NHL’s top rookie two years ago.
Kaprizov, who got 99 of the 100 first-place votes back then, and Robertson are now the leading scorers on their respective teams. They face each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs, with the Central Division rival Stars and Wild opening their best-of-7 series Monday night.
“He’s an amazing player,” Kaprizov said of Robertson, the 23-year-old who this season became Dallas’ first 100-point scorer (46 goals, 63 assists). “He gets opportunities from nothing.”
Neither Dallas, going into the postseason on a six-game winning streak, or Minnesota made it out of the first round of the playoffs last year. Robertson scored only one goal in seven games against Calgary. Kaprizov, who would turn 26 during this series if it goes past five games, had seven goals in a six-game loss to St. Louis. It was the Wild’s sixth consecutive loss in the opening round.
CAROLINA HURRICANES VS NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The challenge is familiar for the Carolina Hurricanes entering the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They’ve established themselves as perennial playoff team, one that has claimed three straight division titles. But they’re again working to turn a strong regular-season run into the deep postseason push that has eluded them of late, starting with a first-round series against the New York Islanders.
“We’re not looking to just make it past the first or second round, or just have a little bit of success,” Carolina forward Seth Jarvis said. “We want to win the whole thing. I think that’s everyone’s kind of mindset in this group, that we have a group to go deep and a group that wants to make some noise.”
The Islanders are back in the postseason after a one-year absence. They won three of their last four games to earn the top wild-card spot in a tight race to the season’s final week.
Joining the Avalanche/Kraken in kicking off tomorrow are the Vegas Golden Knights and the Winnipeg Jets, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, and the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning.