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With two Game 7s on the schedule, Pete Truszkowski gives us his pick for both of Friday's NHL games

Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars

BET: Avalanche ML @ -135

The Colorado Avalanche and their fans must have been shook when their team fell behind 3 games to 1 against the Dallas Stars. Who knew that all they needed to do was turn to third string netminder Michael Hutchinson in order to right the ship?

Original Avalanche starting goalie Philipp Grubauer was hurt in Game One of this series and hasn’t returned to the series. Backup goaltender Pavel Francouz was pulled in Game Four of the series and was deemed unfit to play in game Five and Six.

Francouz’s performances during the series had hockey fans considering the possibility of Michael Hutchinson, but injury left the Avalanche and coach Jared Bednar with no choice.

Hutchinson was forced out of Toronto earlier during the regular season when he posted a 3.66 goals against average in 15 appearances as the Maple Leafs backup. The Avalanche picked him up for organizational depth and he might have saved their season. In his two starts in this series, Hutchinson has won both games, stopping 93.8% of shots he faced.

Earlier in the series, Dallas was winning games and taking advantage of awful Colorado goaltending. It wasn’t that Dallas was playing much better than Colorado, it was just that their goalie made a save once in a while while Francouz did not.

The question at this point becomes simple: will the real Michael Hutchinson please stand up?

Hutchinson hasn’t been a regular NHL back-up since the 2016-17 season. He’s spent most of his career in the minor leagues. Earlier this season when an NHL team gave him an opportunity, he faltered. Why should we believe that he’s all of a sudden a goalie we should trust in Game 7 of a playoff series?

I think that human nature is playing a part here for the Avalanche. When there’s something you know is fragile, you work harder to protect it. If you know you have a carton of eggs in your bag, you won’t throw the bag on the table. Colorado knows that they have a vulnerable goalie in net, so they work harder in the defensive zone to protect Hutchinson from being exposed by Dallas.

Colorado has the reputation of being an offensive team, but they were also one of the top defensive teams in the league in terms of both goals against and expected goals against. When they focus defensively, they can be hard to penetrate.

Colorado also has more offensive talent than Dallas does. Nathan MacKinnon has a point in every single game of these playoffs. If this game turns into more of a defensive showdown and one player is going to decide this game, my money is on Nathan MacKinnon.

It’s hard to ignore the momentum of the series as well. Speaking as a fan of a team that was up 3-1 in their series and now faces a Game Seven this weekend, I want to die. I have no confidence. With Colorado winning two straight games just to force a game seven, I expect them to focus defensively and edge out Dallas in what should be a hard fought classic game.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Vegas Golden Knights

BET: Over 6 Goals @ -106

Speaking of goalies you didn’t expect to have an impact on these playoffs, how about Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks?

Jacob Markstrom struggled for the Vancouver Canucks early in the series, not making the saves and putting forth the performances we’re accustomed to seeing from the Swedish goaltender. It came out that he was dealing with a groin issue. With the Canucks facing elimination entering Game Five, enter 24 year old playoff neophyte Thatcher Demko.

Three days later, hello Game Seven.

Demko was a former high second round draft pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft but he hasn’t made much of an impact on the NHL. In fact, this is his first full season as an NHL back-up goalie. He struggled for the most part, getting beat on average over three times per game and stopping only 90.6% of the shots he faced.

Through two games against the Vegas Golden Knights, Demko has stopped 90 of the 91 shots he’s faced. First of all, that’s insane. Second of all, the fact that he’s faced 91 shots in two games is also insane. Despite this, he’s won both games with a 0.50 goals against average and a .989 save percentage.

Despite Demko’s heroics, the bookmakers aren’t buying the fairytale. Vegas is opening as a -230 favorite at DraftKings for Game Seven. They’ve been in that range or higher for the last two games. Demko hasn’t earned the respect of the oddsmakers just yet.

You don’t have to follow hockey or be an expert to know that no goalie will ever continue to stop pucks at the rate that Demko has in these past two games. On 91 shots, most goalies are beaten 8 or 9 times on average. The fact Demko has surrendered only one is unheard of.

Demko has been a career backup in the NHL and has played two games in the last three days after not playing in a game since March. This game seven falls in the second half of a back-to-back situation. Demko will almost certainly be in net again for Vancouver.

When you combine the fact that his performance is at an unsustainable rate and he’s due for regression with the fact he might be tired from playing on two straight days, I expect Vegas to breakthrough against Demko in a big way. This team fired 45 shots a night at the Vancouver goal. If Demko plays even an average game, he’s getting beat four times.

This is a do or die game, so Vegas will throw the kitchen sink at Vancouver.

On the other end of the ice, it’s a question mark as to who will be in net for Vegas. Robin Lehner has been the starter for the Golden Knights in these playoffs, but he played in Game Six on Thursday night. Does Peter Deboer turn to backup goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in a do-or-die game?

On one hand, it’d be nice to have a fresh goalie. Fleury is a very good backup netminder. On the other hand, are you really going to take the fate of your season and put it in your backup’s hands? It’ll be fascinating to see who’s in the net for Vegas. Fleury projects as a potential downgrade in performance, while Lehner’s fatigue might become an issue.

I expect the dam to finally break on Demko. I think Vegas wins and solves the young netminder. I also think that Vancouver has the talent to score a few goals. Despite four of the six games in this series going under, I think we get a breakthrough in Game Seven.


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