CENTENNIAL, Colo.--Mikko Rantanen will be in the Colorado Avalanche's lineup on Thursday night when the club begins its first-round, Stanley Cup Playoffs series at the Calgary Flames.
The Avalanche right wing was a full participant in Wednesday's practice at Family Sports Center, donning a regular sweater for the first time since getting hurt on March 21 in a game at the Dallas Stars. Rantanen missed the final eight regular-season games with an upper-body injury.
"I feel good," Rantanen said after practice. "I'm excited, and I guess good timing to get back and straight into the playoffs. I'm really excited."
Despite being absent for the end of the season, Rantanen still finished the campaign as the Avs' second-leading scorer with 87 points. After posting 84 points during his sophomore NHL season in 2017-18, the Finnish forward recorded new career highs this year in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56).
He was the first NHL player to reach the 30, 40, 50-point marks during the season and was second to 60, hitting the threshold a few hours after the Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov did so.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said that Rantanen will play on a line with center Carl Soderberg in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series. Soderberg skated with J.T. Compher and Colin Wilson in the Avalanche's regular season finale last Saturday in San Jose.
"It's a whole new level of intensity and competitiveness come playoff time. He's well aware of that, and I think that he's been ramping up nicely," said Bednar. "He looks better and better and quicker and quicker every day he's on the ice. We'll see how he does tomorrow in the game and adjust his ice time from there, but I expect him to play a lot, just like he normally does."
In Rantanen's first postseason experience last year, he registered four assists in six games while playing on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. At least two of the three players skated on the same line for much of this season, but Bednar is going to start Round 1 with the trio split up.
"I think you look at what [the Flames have] done against us in the past with the [Mikael Backlund, [Matthew] Tkachuk and [Michael] Frolik line against MacKinnon just gives us some depth on some other lines that I think, hopefully, we can take advantage of," Bednar reasoned.
Without the forward in the lineup, Colorado went 5-1-2 down the stretch and secured a postseason spot in the penultimate game of the season last Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets.
"The way we finished, it was fun to watch," Rantanen said. "Obviously I would have preferred to be on the ice, but it was what it was. It was fun to see how the guys did it and made the push and made the playoffs. Now we're here and anything can happen, so just excited to play."
The Avalanche held roughly a 30-minute practice on Wednesday at Family Sports Center, focusing on special teams after previously working on even-strength work on Monday. The squad had a recovery day on Tuesday.
Bednar has yet to name a starting goaltender for the first game of the series. The team used both Philipp Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov throughout the season, with Varlamov taking the net in 49 contest and Grubauer appearing in 37 outings.
Grubauer started in nine of the club's final 11 games of the season and posted a 7-0-2 record, 1.63 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
"He's given us a chance to win every night," Bednar said of Grubauer. "I think it's a pretty special run he went on here at the end of the year and we'd like to see that continue into the playoffs. I think our team is real confident in him in net and I think it frees us up to go play our game. We have to continue to play our game and be an aggressive team and be a hard-skating, play-with-pace type of team."
Right Wing Mikko Rantanen on having playoff experience from last year: "I think it helps. We have a lot of guys from last year's team, so we know where we're going now. Most of the guys played their first games last year, so I think it's an advantage for us obviously. Our team has more playoff experience total than they have, but they're still the favorite. We're just going to play now, and we believe in this team and we're going to do it."
Video: Rantanen on being health for the playoffs
Left Wing Matt Calvert on playing in Canada: "I was telling the boys today, as a kid we didn't have the Jets when I was a teenager. Calgary went on their run to the Cup Finals against Tampa, you know, being 12 hours away in Manitoba we were basically Calgary Flames fans. So, all of Canada supports them and it's going to be a lot of fun going in there. The sea of red is very well known and the fans are going to be great. So, it's going to be a great atmosphere and hopefully, we can send them home sad."
Video: Calvert on the playoffs in his first season with COL
Head Coach Jared Bednar on staying disciplined against the Flames: "You don't want to give them those opportunities, you'd like them to get frustrated a little bit it in the way you're playing. Check them hard and part of that is being disciplined and making sure we're using our legs to check."
Video: Jared Bednar before heading to Calgary