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."
BACKUPS TO BIG ROLES
Grubauer and Colorado's Alexandar Georgiev have this in common — both were given a chance to be the undisputed main goaltender in Colorado.
Grubauer was brought in from Washington and won 66 games with Colorado over three regular seasons before moving on to Seattle. Georgiev was a backup to Igor Shesterkin in New York with the Rangers before the Avalanche acquired him in a trade last July. His 40 wins matched Patrick Roy (2000-01) for the second-most in a season in Avalanche history.
"Both (Grubauer and Georgiev) wanted that opportunity to show they can be that sort of carry-the-mail type," Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland said.
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.
Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar has dealt with his share of injuries this season. But the MVP of the playoffs last season is confident he will be on the ice Tuesday despite missing the last seven games with a lower-body injury.
"I'm as close (to 100%) as I can be right now," Makar said.
He had eight goals and 21 assists in last season's Cup run.
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