Cale Makar vs. Roman Josi: Who’s the best defenseman in the Avalanche-Predators series?

NASHVILLE — Through three playoff games, the best franchise defenseman in the Avalanche-Predator series has a highlighter in all capital letters over his name.

Entering Monday night’s Game 4 here, Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar stood second in NHL playoff scoring and first among all blueliners. He led all players at 2.33 points per game.

Most importantly, Makar’s team led the series 3-0.

The Predators’ Roman Josi, who led all defensemen in regular-season scoring, had a goal and two points entering Monday’s game. He’s played well but has not been a difference-maker like Makar.

“Both special players, obviously,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of the two Norris Trophy finalists after the morning skate at Bridgestone Arena. “(Makar) helps drive our team’s offense, Josi helps drive their team’s offense, highly involved in all aspects of the game.

“Both guys have been playing great in the series.”

The Norris Trophy is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Colorado winger Mikko Rantanen doesn’t have a vote. But if he did?

“My teammate and a heckuva player,” Rantanen said of Makar. “They’re both really good defensemen. A little different styles. Both are really good offensively but also can defend well. But obviously, I’ll give my vote to Cale. You know how explosive he is, 20-something goals, almost 30. That’s not easy for a defenseman to do.”

Makar finished with 28 goals in the regular season, the most ever by an Avalanche defenseman. He’s just the fifth NHL defenseman to score 28 goals or more in the past 30 years.

The Swiss-born Josi had a career-high 23 goals. His career-most 96 points were 10 more than Makar, who played three fewer games.

Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman is the third Norris finalist but the award is expected to go to Makar or Josi, the latter of whom won it in 2020. Makar was the runner-up to the Rangers’ Adam Fox last year.

“He’s the most dynamic D-man I’ve played with, and that I’ve seen,” Avalanche winger Andre Burakovsky said of Makar. “The things he does out there, I mean, it’s hard to believe — the way he skates, the way he joins the offense, the way he shoots and the way he defends. I would be surprised if he didn’t win it.”

2022 NHL playoff scoring

Cale Makar: 3 GP, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, plus 3 rating, 25:31 average ice time

Roman Josi: 3 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, minus 2 rating, 25:34 average ice time

Footnote. Rookie goalie Justus Annunen will back up Pavel Francouz in Game 4 because Darcy Kuemper has too much swelling around his right eye. With Annunen activated, the Avs now have three players in the series who were acquired directly or indirectly from the 2017 trade of center Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators in a three-team deal. The others are defensemen Sam Girard (from Nashville) and Bo Byram (Ottawa’s 2019 first-round draft pick). Duchene, the Avs’ 2009 first-round pick (third overall), is having a career year for Nashville.

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