Hurricanes, Avs finding youth serves them well

NHL Hockey
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The Carolina Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals last year, surprising some with their deep playoff run. They’re not taking anyone by surprise this season but that hasn’t stopped them from putting together another strong run.

Carolina has won five of its last six and, even more impressive, it is 3-1 on its current road trip through the Western Conference. The Hurricanes will try to make it four wins on the five-game trip when they play the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night.

Carolina has the benefit of rest, having last played Tuesday while Colorado was in Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.

The Avalanche beat the Blackhawks 4-1 and have gone 9-1-1 in their last 11 games.

Both teams made unexpected postseason charges last year. The Hurricanes nearly reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in their history before losing to the Boston Bruins in the conference finals. Colorado was the second wild card in the Western Conference but upset the Calgary Flames in five games before falling in seven games to the San Jose Sharks in the conference semifinals.

Both squads have built on those successes. Carolina is third in the tough Metropolitan Division while the Avalanche are second in the Central Division. A common reason for the early season success is the play of young superstars.

For the Hurricanes, it is 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov, who leads the team with 35 points through 34 games on a team with balanced scoring. He had an impressive goal in the win at the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, scoring what teammates described as a lacrosse-type goal that gave Carolina a 3-2 lead en route to a 6-3 victory.

His acrobatic goal seemed run of the mill for his teammates and his coach.

“You guys saw it first time about a month ago,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the win. “But we’ve been seeing it for a year and half in practice. It’s just a matter of time before he pulled it off, so it’s not lucky when you practice something over and over. That’s not luck.”

The Avalanche have their own young superstar in 24-year-old center Nathan MacKinnon. Like Svechnikov, MacKinnon was in the NHL at age 18 and has steadily gotten better. He has 21 goals and 31 assists in 34 games — both team highs — and he carried Colorado through a spate of injuries.

“He’s elevated his game and (he’s been) more consistent over the last couple of years, so he’s getting himself into the scoring areas more,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said before Wednesday’s game. He’s really well aware of his surroundings and when he has open men he can use and when his shot is his best opportunity. I think you’re going to see his numbers continue to go up.”

Colorado has gotten healthier, with first-line forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen returning from injuries that kept them both out 16 games. The Avalanche could get another player back for the Carolina game; Bednar said defenseman Erik Johnson, who has missed the last 11 games with a lower-body injury, is a “possibility” for Thursday night.

It is doubtful rookie defenseman Cale Makar (upper-body injury) will play. He has missed the last five games.

–Field Level Media

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