MacKinnon Versus Hellebuyck Highlight First-Ever Playoff Meeting Between Avalanche and Jets

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) congratulate each other after an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)


DENVER (AP) — For the first time, Colorado and Winnipeg will clash in a playoff series.

Still, the Central Division rivals know each other well.

It’s a meeting of possible award winners, with super-fast Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon in the running for the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP, and super-reliable Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck one of the favorites for the Vezina for top netminder.

It’s a contrast of styles, too, given the high-flying nature of an Avalanche team that led the league in scoring and the stinginess of the Jets, one of the NHL’s best defenses. Colorado, though, was dealt a blow when Jonathan Drouin was ruled out for the series with a lower-body injury.

Game 1 is Sunday in Winnipeg.

“We feel like the underdogs,” said MacKinnon, whose team remains one of the Stanley Cup favorites according to BetMGM Sportsbook.

The Jets dominated the season series against Colorado, going 3-0 and outscoring the Avalanche by a 17-4 margin. That included a 7-0 win a week ago that chased Alexandar Georgiev from the game.

Winnipeg refuses to read too much into it.

“We know they’re a great hockey team,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said. “We know it’s going to be a tough series.”

MacKinnon is coming off a regular season that featured a franchise-record 140 points (51 goals, 89 assists). He also skated 300 miles — the equivalent of more than 11 marathons — according to NHL Stats.

But finding open ice against the Jets will be a challenge. Their defense surrendered just 198 goals this season, which was tied with Florida for the fewest. Colorado is a team that likes to push the pace and led the league with 302 goals.

“It’s going to be tough to score but I think for us, it’s our defensive details we need to be strong at,” MacKinnon said.

Locking things down in the crease for the Jets is Hellebuyck, who finished with a .921 save percentage in making 1,656 saves.

In the other net, Georgiev is coming off a season in which he won an NHL-best 38 games, but also surrendered a league-high 183 goals.

Colorado didn’t close the season with momentum, going 2-3-1 down the stretch. Then again, the team finished the 2022 season on a 1-5-1 streak before eventually hoisting the Stanley Cup.

“For us,” defenseman Cale Makar said, “it’s just making sure everyone feels like we’re a connected group.”


Colorado forward Valeri Nichushkin finished with 28 goals and 25 assists in a season where he missed nearly two months after entering the player assistance program. He became the second Colorado player to take part in the joint NHLPA/NHL program this season after defenseman Samuel Girard.

Nichushkin was away from the Avalanche in the playoffs last season for what the team explained at the time were personal reasons. He missed the final five postseason games of a first-round loss to Seattle.


Drouin got hurt when he tripped in the second period Thursday against Edmonton. He won’t play in the first round, the team announced Saturday.

The 29-year-old Drouin turned in a career season with 56 points (19 goals, 37 assists) after signing with Colorado over the summer.

“I know he’s crushed right now,” his good friend MacKinnon said.


Hellebuyck has all 17 of the franchise’s NHL postseason wins. He can become the first netminder in NHL history to record each of a franchise’s first 18 playoff wins. He’s currently tied with Georges Vezina, who accumulated Montreal’s first 17 NHL playoff victories from 1918 to 1925, according to NHL Stats.

“We have the best goalie in the league,” Jets defenseman Neal Pionk said.


Avalanche forward Zach Parise is chasing after his first title after more than 1,300 total NHL games. When this season concludes, he plans to retire. Not that he’s giving it much thought.

“You get so consumed with the games and with the playoffs that you try to be a little more in the present,” Parise said. “Right now it’s about Game 1.”


At 69, Bowness has a chance to become the oldest head coach to win the crown. Only Scotty Bowman and Dick Irvin have won after birthday No. 60, according to league research.



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