Hope is renewed as Avalanche prepares to take on the Jets in Game 1

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The Colorado avalanche hope to benefit from a clean slate when they visit Winnipeg Jets for Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series Sunday night.

Winnipeg won the season series against the Avalanchelast won 7-0 on April 13.

That win was part of an eight-game winning streak that ended the regular season for the club Jets and putting them in second place in the Central Division.

“It’s the first to four wins,” Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey said. “At the same time, it means understanding and respecting their strengths and knowing what our strengths are, and trying to bring out what we are good at and being aggressive in our game while, again, understanding what their bread and butter is.”

The Avalanche will continue to lean heavily on their top line, anchored by Nathan MacKinnon.

He had two assists in Thursday’s regular season finale, a 5-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers, giving him 140 points for the season, one more than the previous franchise record set by Peter Stastny during the 1981-82 season when the team played in Québec City.

“Yeah, it’s cool,” MacKinnon said. “Peter Stastny is one of the best to ever play. He’s had some crazy seasons. I think overall he’s had much better seasons than me, this is just one. I think it’s a team effort. A lot of guys helped me along the way.”

The Avalanche won’t be rolling into the playoffs as hot as the Jets4-5-2 in their last 11 games, but coach Jared Bednar likes Colorado’s state of mind heading into the postseason.

“A lot of hard work, video work and practice the last few days, I think, is doing us good,” Bednar said. “I think guys are in a good place mentally.”

Valeri Nichushkin will also be a key player for the Avalanche.

He scored two goals in the win against Edmonton, his first in eight games, giving him six goals in 14 games since returning from a two-month stay in the NHL Players Assistance Program.

“I’m feeling pretty good (against Edmonton), probably the best energy I think,” he said. “It’s a good time because there are big games coming up.”

His teammates have also seen glimpses of the player who scored nine goals and six assists during Colorado’s bid to win the Stanley Cup title two years ago.

“When his shoes are moving and he’s playing physical, that’s when he’s at his best and he knows it,” Colorado defenseman Cale Makar said. “If he gets that under his belt and gets some confidence, I’m sure it’s something big.”

The Jets will rely on their strong goaltending, led by Connor Hellebuyck, and their suffocating defense to keep Colorado’s offense in check.

Winnipeg allowed 2.42 goals per game during the regular season, tied with the Florida Panthers for the league lead.

“Our defensive play has been the strength of our team all year.” Jets said defenseman Adam Lowry. “Looking at what we have tried to achieve so far during the training camp, we are satisfied, but now the real work begins. We look forward to the next challenge.”

Jets coach Rick Bowness said forward Morgan Barron will not play in Game 1 after leaving Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Kraken with a lower-body injury. He played Thursday’s regular-season finale against the Vancouver Canucks.

Barron had 18 points, including a career-high 11 goals, in 80 games this season.

— Field-level media

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