Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Colorado Avalanche are Already Winners, But Look For More

Right when the clock hit zero in the gold medal game, millions of fans’ thoughts turned directly towards their cities’ teams; especially those fans who are from the United States. I’m sure Canadian fans were soaking in the moment a little longer.

The Colorado Avalanche are Already Winners, But Look For More

For Colorado fans, their thoughts never left the team. While four of their players were involved in the ceremonies, their excitement couldn’t be stifled towards their team in the league that plays once a year, not every four years. The two-week break has seemed like an eternity, and come Wednesday, when Colorado plays Los Angeles at home, it will feel like a new season has begun. Except in this two-month long season, Colorado starts third in their division, with a fifteen-point lead above the ninth place teams in the conference, the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars.

Here we are, a moment Denver natives wouldn’t dare dream of 365 days ago, and only the few extreme people predicted four months ago – in a playoff position. How exactly did the Avs end up in this spot? It has been nothing short of combinations of several different factors. The stellar goaltending thus far from Semyon Varlamov, the new regime of Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, the immediate impact and progressive dominance from rookie Nathan MacKinnon, and the build of solid, everyday, two-way play from the players in the trenches. No one should underestimate the impact of consistency from Ryan O’Reilly, Max Talbot, or even Marc-André Cliche.

The goal of reaching the playoffs is all but assured. However, it will not be all peaches and cream from here on out. On February 20th the Colorado Avalanche were informed that left winger, Alex Tanguay would have season ending surgery on his hip, something that undoubtedly hurts the team. In games that he has played his year, Colorado has gone 15-1.

It will also be interesting to see what the effect of losing without medalling will do to the confidence in Varlamov. In a recent article by Carol Shram of  Bleacher Report, she named Varlamov as the most disappointing player of the entire Olympic hockey tournament. A delusional stretch to say the very least, but it does hone in on one concept: it might have been an overly disappointing experience for Varlamov. Even though Russia as a whole underachieved immensely (especially according to Russia itself), the goalie always gets flak, and there will be no shortage of flak coming from Russia for a long time. For Colorado’s sake, hopefully former goaltender Roy can manipulate the mind of a fellow net-minder into turning a negative game into a reason to stay hungry.

Once in the playoffs, the Avalanche will most likely face either the St. Louis Blues, or the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, neither of which will give in inch in a playoff series. But with the youth on the Colorado roster, I don’t know if there is a better scenario for giving them experience in a tough, bruising series with serious Cup contenders. It will be but good to learn to grow from physical trauma and mental defeat. With MacKinnon, 18, and Matt Duchene, 23, leading the way, they will have years ahead of them to use that experience to their advantage.

Until then, Colorado needs to realize the reality at hand. They have twenty-four games left, and a fifteen-point point playoff cushion. Both Phoenix and Dallas are projected to have ninety-one points by the end of the season, only twelve above where the Colorado currently stands. That means Colorado only needs to go the equivalent of 5-18-1 the rest of the way to relinquish that spot. More importantly, they are only five points behind Chicago for home-ice advantage in the first round. And with two games in hand, and two upcoming head-to-head match-ups between the teams, catching the Hawks is a possibility that is still fairly very much in the teams control.

Whether Colorado wins a playoff series or not, they have already won. They have exceeded almost every expectation, and will mostly likely gain valuable playoff experience.  But while they are here, they might as well gain the most that they can. You never know what could happen in the playoffs.


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