Kiz: While sweaty palms squeezed sticks from New York to Calgary during the relentless tension of Game 7’s throughout the opening round of the NHL playoffs, the Avalanche has been getting some well-deserved rest and relaxation. But we know the road to the Stanley Cup is never a cakewalk. Are the Blues any better than the team Colorado swept away last season? What’s your biggest concern in this playoff rematch against St. Louis?

Chambers: Nothing, really. I don’t see any weaknesses. Depth is so much better than last year. There are very good forwards and defensemen who played important roles in the regular season sitting as healthy scratches right now. The trade deadline guys and the good health of the team will prevent the Avs from using any AHL callups. Last year, rookie forwards Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta were in the playoff mix and the third defensive pairing of Patrik Nemeth and Conor Timmins was far from ideal. And the Avs have two quality goaltenders.

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Kiz: For a goalie that the Avalanche basically acquired out of desperation, Darcy Kuemper has been everything that front-office executive Joe Sakic and Avalanche teammates could have hoped for. But has Kuemper ever truly established himself as a clutch goalie? Please tell me there’s something on his resume that can reassure me Kuemper will bounce back strongly from the inevitable poor performance every goalie eventually suffers in the playoffs?

Chambers: Kuemper has the size, experience, and mindset to succeed. Plus the Avs have a very capable backup in Pavel Francouz, who is much smaller but equally as appreciated. It’s a solid tandem this team believes in — and the goalies feel that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Francouz steps in to start after Kuemper falters. It’s not like Kuemper owns the net. Jared Bednar could switch it up. But both goalies and the team, in general, will support that. This isn’t like the old days with Patrick Roy-or-bust. Roy owned the Colorado net. Sometimes a great tandem is just as good as the future Hall of Famer.

Kiz: The boys in the Avalanche dressing room look confident and focused. But if our old pal Ryan O’Reilly and St. Louis can hand the Avs their first real adversity of this spring, will they be haunted by the ghosts of past playoff exits? Winning the Cup is as much a mental test as a physical grind. Maybe the X factor for Colorado can be the continued growth of defenseman Cale Makar, not only because he evokes memories of Bobby Orr on the ice, but because he has become a stronger voice of leadership in the room.

Chambers: Continued growth for Makar is an interesting thought. He’s already considered the most dynamic 200-foot D-man in the league. His increased leadership responsibilities seem to aid his play on the ice. He was the best player in the Nashville series and if he does the same against the Blues, O’Reilly and company will be in trouble. But O’Reilly is definitely the X factor for St. Louis. Incredible leader and clutch end-to-end player. As for the mental test and physical grind, O’Reilly and most of his teammates know what it takes, having won the Cup in 2019. But I still like the relentless Avs, who are in their best position in Bednar’s tenure to finally advance to the conference finals.

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