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MacKinnon versus Hellebuyck highlight first-ever playoff meeting between Avalanche and Jets

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MacKinnon versus Hellebuyck highlight first-ever playoff meeting between Avalanche and Jets
Sport

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MacKinnon versus Hellebuyck highlight first-ever playoff meeting between Avalanche and Jets

2024-04-21 05:08 Last Updated At:05:10

DENVER (AP) — For the first time, Colorado and Winnipeg will clash in a playoff series.

Still, the Central Division rivals know each other well.

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Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) and center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrate after Makar's goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 14, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

DENVER (AP) — For the first time, Colorado and Winnipeg will clash in a playoff series.

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner stops a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner stops a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Seattle Kraken's Pierre-Edouard Bellmare (41) jumps out of the way as a puck is shot on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Seattle Kraken's Pierre-Edouard Bellmare (41) jumps out of the way as a puck is shot on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) celebrates the win over the Seattle Kraken with Dylan DeMelo (2) after an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) celebrates the win over the Seattle Kraken with Dylan DeMelo (2) after an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) congratulate each other after an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) congratulate each other after an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

It’s a meeting of possible award winners, with super-fast Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon in the running for the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP, and super-reliable Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck one of the favorites for the Vezina for top netminder.

It's a contrast of styles, too, given the high-flying nature of an Avalanche team that led the league in scoring and the stinginess of the Jets, one of the NHL’s best defenses. Colorado, though, was dealt a blow when Jonathan Drouin was ruled out for the series with a lower-body injury.

Game 1 is Sunday in Winnipeg.

“We feel like the underdogs," said MacKinnon, whose team remains one of the Stanley Cup favorites according to BetMGM Sportsbook.

The Jets dominated the season series against Colorado, going 3-0 and outscoring the Avalanche by a 17-4 margin. That included a 7-0 win a week ago that chased Alexandar Georgiev from the game.

Winnipeg refuses to read too much into it.

“We know they’re a great hockey team,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said. “We know it’s going to be a tough series.”

MacKinnon is coming off a regular season that featured a franchise-record 140 points (51 goals, 89 assists). He also skated 300 miles — the equivalent of more than 11 marathons — according to NHL Stats.

But finding open ice against the Jets will be a challenge. Their defense surrendered just 198 goals this season, which was tied with Florida for the fewest. Colorado is a team that likes to push the pace and led the league with 302 goals.

“It's going to be tough to score but I think for us, it’s our defensive details we need to be strong at,” MacKinnon said.

Locking things down in the crease for the Jets is Hellebuyck, who finished with a .921 save percentage in making 1,656 saves.

In the other net, Georgiev is coming off a season in which he won an NHL-best 38 games, but also surrendered a league-high 183 goals.

Colorado didn't close the season with momentum, going 2-3-1 down the stretch. Then again, the team finished the 2022 season on a 1-5-1 streak before eventually hoisting the Stanley Cup.

“For us,” defenseman Cale Makar said, “it’s just making sure everyone feels like we’re a connected group.”

VAL’S PRESENCE

Colorado forward Valeri Nichushkin finished with 28 goals and 25 assists in a season where he missed nearly two months after entering the player assistance program. He became the second Colorado player to take part in the joint NHLPA/NHL program this season after defenseman Samuel Girard.

Nichushkin was away from the Avalanche in the playoffs last season for what the team explained at the time were personal reasons. He missed the final five postseason games of a first-round loss to Seattle.

MISSING DROUIN

Drouin got hurt when he tripped in the second period Thursday against Edmonton. He won't play in the first round, the team announced Saturday.

The 29-year-old Drouin turned in a career season with 56 points (19 goals, 37 assists) after signing with Colorado over the summer.

“I know he’s crushed right now,” his good friend MacKinnon said.

VEZINA & HELLEBUYCK

Hellebuyck has all 17 of the franchise’s NHL postseason wins. He can become the first netminder in NHL history to record each of a franchise’s first 18 playoff wins. He's currently tied with Georges Vezina, who accumulated Montreal’s first 17 NHL playoff victories from 1918 to 1925, according to NHL Stats.

“We have the best goalie in the league,” Jets defenseman Neal Pionk said.

PARISE'S LAST GO-AROUND

Avalanche forward Zach Parise is chasing after his first title after more than 1,300 total NHL games. When this season concludes, he plans to retire. Not that he's giving it much thought.

“You get so consumed with the games and with the playoffs that you try to be a little more in the present,” Parise said. “Right now it's about Game 1.”

COACHING EXPERIENCE

At 69, Bowness has a chance to become the oldest head coach to win the crown. Only Scotty Bowman and Dick Irvin have won after birthday No. 60, according to league research.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) and center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrate after Makar's goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 14, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) and center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrate after Makar's goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 14, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner stops a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner stops a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Seattle Kraken's Pierre-Edouard Bellmare (41) jumps out of the way as a puck is shot on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Seattle Kraken's Pierre-Edouard Bellmare (41) jumps out of the way as a puck is shot on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) celebrates the win over the Seattle Kraken with Dylan DeMelo (2) after an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) celebrates the win over the Seattle Kraken with Dylan DeMelo (2) after an NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday April 16, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) congratulate each other after an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) congratulate each other after an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

Next Article

Fani Willis and judge presiding over Georgia Trump election case defeat challengers

2024-05-22 10:09 Last Updated At:10:10

ATLANTA (AP) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who brought a sprawling racketeering case against former President Donald Trump and others, has won the Democratic primary in her bid for reelection.

Willis defeated progressive attorney Christian Wise Smith in the primary election and is now set to face off against Republican Courtney Kramer in the fall. Willis told reporters after her victory that the voters sent a message that “people want a DA that is just, that treats everybody equally and that works hard, and they know that they have that in me.”

Meanwhile, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, the judge who was randomly assigned to preside over the election interference case, also fended off a challenger, winning a nonpartisan election to keep his seat.

The Trump election case and racketeering cases against well-known rappers have boosted Willis’ public profile. But on Tuesday night she touted her efforts to fight violent crime by being tough on gang members while also saying she worked to give second chances to first offenders and created programs to catch at-risk youth before they get caught up in the criminal justice system.

“The people said yes to justice. The people said yes to safety. The people said yes to integrity. The people said yes to Fani Willis," Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said to applause Tuesday night at Willis' victory party.

With her name recognition, the advantages of incumbency and a hefty fundraising haul, Willis’ victory in the primary was not terribly surprising. As she moves on to the general election, the odds would seem to be in her favor as well. Fulton County includes most of the city of Atlanta and is heavily Democratic, about 73% of its voters having cast ballots for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

But Willis was taking nothing for granted after her primary win, telling supporters, “The campaign does not end tonight. It begins tonight.”

“My opponent is completely unqualified,” she said, later adding, “But while she is inexperienced and unqualified and does not represent the values of my county, don't get confused. She is a real threat because of who backs her and how they back her.”

Willis urged her supporters to continue to back her financially, noting that there was a store selling campaign merchandise onsite during her victory party.

Kramer, who has ties to some of Trump’s most prominent allies in Georgia and has drawn campaign contributions from both the county and state Republican parties, told reporters when she qualified to run that the Trump indictment prompted her to challenge Willis. In a post on the social media platform X earlier this month, she wrote, “The future of Fulton and safety in our community should not be controlled by self-interested politicians who use their office for political law fare. It’s time for a change.”

McAfee has been on the bench since last year when Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed him to fill an empty seat. He has since become one of the most high-profile judges in Georgia since he was randomly assigned last year to preside over the election interference case. With the added advantages of incumbency, strong bipartisan backing from heavy hitters and an impressive fundraising haul, he was the likely favorite to win.

Willis and Smith both worked in the Fulton County district attorney’s office under then-District Attorney Paul Howard. They both challenged their former boss in the Democratic primary in 2020. Willis and Howard advanced to a runoff that she won, and she ran unopposed in the November general election that year.

Kramer ran unopposed in the Republican primary Tuesday and has already been focusing her attention on attacking Willis. A lawyer who interned in the Trump White House, she has ties to some of the former president's prominent allies in Georgia.

Kramer and her backers will undoubtedly continue to focus on what even some of Willis' closest allies have seen as a major misstep — her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired for the election case. Claims by defense attorneys in the case that the romance created a conflict of interest threatened to derail the prosecution.

McAfee ultimately ruled that it did not create a conflict of interest that should disqualify Willis, but he said she could only continue the case if the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, stepped aside. Wade promptly left the case, but a defense appeal of McAfee's ruling is now pending before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Wade was among those gathered at an event space in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood Tuesday evening to celebrate Willis' win.

Willis obtained an indictment in August against Trump and 18 others, accusing them of participating in an alleged illegal scheme to overturn Trump's narrow loss in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Four people have pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors. Trump and the 14 others who remain have pleaded not guilty.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks to the media after winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks to the media after winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks after winning re-election in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens takes a photograph with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis before she speaks and after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens takes a photograph with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis before she speaks and after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates with supporters after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis celebrates with supporters after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis arrives before she speaks after winning re-election in the primary on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Buckhead, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

In this photo combination of file images, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court, left, while Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photos/Alex Slitz)

In this photo combination of file images, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court, left, while Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, looks on during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photos/Alex Slitz)

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