Avalanche’s Kuemper out, Francouz likely Game 2 starter

Darcy Kuemper wasn’t on the ice for the Colorado Avalanche at the Morning Skate, after Gene Principe from Sportsnet, when Pavel Francouz and Justus Annunen occupied the nets instead. The veteran goalkeeper was pulled from Game 1 with an upper-body injury and head coach Jared Bednar declined to comment on the details on Wednesday other than to say “we’ll see” if he would be ready for Game 2. Bednar confirmed after the skate that Kuemper is indeed out for Thursday night’s game.

Kuemper, 32, has struggled with injury throughout his career and had an unlucky incident back in the playoffs that left him out for a few games. Against the Nashville Predators in the first round, a stick came through Kuemper’s mask and hit him in the eye, forcing Francouz into the net for a game and a half. While the Avalanche had no trouble ending that streak, they are in a difficult position against an Edmonton Oilers team that has had no trouble scoring.

If it’s Francouz, it’s another chance for him to not only prove he can handle an NHL playoff game, but that he can be part of a tandem next season. Kuemper is a pending unrestricted free agent while Francouz, 31, is signed until 2023-24. Up to this point in his short NHL career, the Czech goaltender was utterly unreliable in the postseason despite strong numbers in the regular season, posting an .891 save percentage in nine games. Six of those came in the 2020 bubble playoffs as the team finally went down with Michael Hutchinson in the deciding Game 7 against the Dallas Stars.

The Oilers, on the other hand, had their own problems with the goaltender in Game 1 when Mike Smith was pulled from the net after allowing six goals on 25 shots. Darren Dreger or TSN tweets that there is a “strong indication” that the team will return to Smith for Game 2, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering how much faith they have placed in the veteran goalkeeper so far.

In 13 games this postseason, Smith has a solid .917 save rate and even leads the playoffs with two shutouts. While it can be a bit of an adventure at times, at this point there is little doubt that it gives Edmonton the best chance of winning.

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