The St. Louis Blues know what they are facing when their first round playoff series against the Avalanche kicks off Monday night.
They’ve seen it in person eight times during the regular season.
Gabe Landeskog at the half-wall. Until Nathan MacKinnon below the goal line. Back to Landeskog while Mikko Rantanen lurked on the other circle. Back to MacKinnon outside of the blue paint. One move, two moves and – bam! MacKinnon shot over Jordan Binnington.
That goal came in Avalanches’ 3-2 win over the Blues on April 2, but a familiar script played out throughout the season.
And usually goals.
The NHL’s top team is led by the top of the leagues – MacKinnon in the center, flanked by Landeskog (left wing) and Rantanen (right wing). The trio combined for 70 goals, 113 assists and a plus-66 rating.
To understand what makes the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line so deadly, we called two player analysts: NBC Sports’ Dominic Moore, who played in 897 games (101 in the playoffs) and the third round four times the playoffs, and NBC Sports Bay Area’s Bret Hedican, who played in 1,039 games and three cup finals (one win) of his 108 postseason games.
Both Moore and Hedican were delighted with the versatility of the LMR Lines.
They can beat you in so many ways, Moore said. What I like about that line is that they score on the rush, but they are also one of the very best in the league in scoring the cycle and for me, that’s how they’re going to do their damage in the playoffs. You won’t see many of those rush opportunities in the playoffs because you play against solid and disciplined defense teams.
While working on a recent Avalanche-San Jose game, Hedican asked his producer to show a specific clip of the LMR line at its best.
It was a right side play where all three boys not only grabbed the puck but also kept their feet moving and they worked to open up to each other, he said. They are all so smart and think that the game is at such a high level that they know when to deliver the pass.
What is striking about the LMR line, according to Hedicans, is that they always investigate the defense. Is Rantanen open in the high slot machine? Is Landeskog available for a top-of-the-crease tip-in? Does MacKinnon have enough room in the rush to get wide on a retreating defender?
MacKinnon is one of the biggest skaters in the world right now, and his ability to shoot the puck just backs up teams and defenders, giving guys like Rantanen and Landeskog more room to maneuver and open up in the attacking zone, Hedican said. All three add something. Landeskog knows that he has to get in the front of the net. Rantanen can work along the wall. And MacKinnon is clearly someone who can get divorced. That makes them one of the most dominant lines in the world.
Does the LMR line remind the former players of previous opponents or teammates? They sure do.
Moore played in Boston with the trio Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak.
(The Avs line) reminds me of those guys because they are so strong independent on the puck, they can stay apart and that makes them all the more dangerous because you can create more opening, Moore said.
Hedican mentioned two legends in his comparison.
I think back to when (Jaromir) Jagr was at his best with (Mario) Lemieux, he said. Jagr made it so difficult to play against because he was so strong in the corners to protect the puck. (The Avs line) All can find the open man while defending the puck.
So how does St. Louis defend the LMR line?
That could be a job with Ryan OReilly, Hedican said.
If Avs coach chooses Jared Bednar, he can use the ‘Last-change-on-home-ice’ option to keep OReilly away from his big guns. Had the Avalanche played Minnesota, the Wild would have presented a better match along the lines of Jordan Greenway, Joel Erikkson-Ek and Marcus Foligno.
I don’t see that (the Blues) third or fourth lines can stop them, said Hedican, who added that St. Louis was coming at the end of the season, but I don’t see them beating Colorado.
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