Avalanche Hockey

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) takes part in drills during an NHL hockey practice Monday, July 20, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube knows how a game against the Colorado Avalanche can go sideways for his team. The causes Jan. 2 in a 7-3 Blues loss weren’t hard to diagnose.

Four points for Nathan MacKinnon. Three power-play goals against.

“They have high-end players and if you don’t do a good job against them, they’re going to make you pay,” Berube said.

On the other side, Avalanche winger Matt Nieto called defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis a “big, heavy team.”

“We have to find a way to use our speed to our advantage against them and find ways to get to their net,” he said.

The top two teams in the Western Conference open the round robin Sunday at 4:30 p.m. They’re playing for seeding and the benefits of home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, without the actual home ice.

They split the season series, each taking both home games.

Coach Jared Bednar didn’t place too much stock specifically in the Avs’ two most recent outings against the Blues, both wins. He said Colorado is a confident team in general.

“It’s good to get playing a meaningful game against such a good opponent because we’re hoping that’s going to drag the best out of our players,” he said.

Special teams will factor in no matter what, but could easily swing the game. The Avs’ scrimmage and the first few games Saturday were called tightly. The Blues’ power play wasn’t so shabby during the regular season, finishing third in the league at 24.3%. Both penalty kills were toward the middle of the pack.

The Blues have put themselves in a good place to become the second Stanley Cup champion in five years to repeat. The Avalanche want to see what comes of the high expectations set by themselves and others. It may not be an elimination game, but the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko said it has value.

“If we want to win the Cup, we’re going to face those teams in the future,” Tarasenko, returning from shoulder surgery and expected to play, said. “The way you play with them, it’s kind of a confidence moment, for us and for them.”

Roll call

Bednar said the team had a fun practice Saturday after a long week and that everyone was present and healthy, including defenseman Samuel Girard, who missed the scrimmage but confirmed he’d play Sunday.

Bednar declined to name Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz the starting goaltender.

“We’re confident with either one of them,” Nieto said.

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