The Colorado Avalanche are going to the playoffs. That is a phrase that hasn’t been typed, read, or said much over the last half decade. In fact, the last time Colorado saw extra hockey was in the 2009-10 season when they lost against San Jose in the first round. And since they haven’t seen the playoffs much, only two of their under-23 players have had experience, in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
Needless to say, playing game one of their series against Minnesota on Thursday, April 17th, is going to be like their first day of high school. They may have been the dominators in eighth grade, but they need to prove themselves all over again in front of the upper-classmen. But after just being crowned the Central Division champions in the Western Conference, they have the attitude of being the red-shirt quarterback who takes the incumbents by storm.
They are youth in the body, but seemingly veterans at heart. The majority of their public statements follow the pattern of suppressed joy, while keeping a perspective of the goal, and individual games, at the same time. I am still trying to decide whether that is legitimate wisdom, or just the great effect of coach Patrick Roy resonating through their waking souls. Which is possible: he seems to be the common thread between all of Colorado’s success this year, like a picture of Europe where many cities have yarn connecting them to Berlin in a World War Two war room.
The twenty-one year old captain, Gabriel Landeskog, is also very responsible for Colorado’s success this year. He has taken two years worth of experience, and has turned it into a decade’s worth of knowledge and leadership. In a recent article by milehighsports.com, they commented, “He is the leader, nay the hero that the Avalanche both needs and deserves. He is emerging as a clutch forward, the kind that could perhaps fill the shoes of Sakic as a guy that comes through when the team really needs it.” Following the bill of their reference, he is also capable of becoming the legend that lives long enough to – get this – remain the hero.
In the 81 games he has played this year, he has scored 65 points, and also has a +24 rating – indicative of his ability to play well with teammates. His line, consisting of Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon, has been used throughout the season against the toughest opponents, and combined they rate a +58. A smooth combination of power, finesse, and speed, I expect their line to set the tone for the team, and the series.
Perhaps the team that Colorado can become, is the one that keeps the perspective upon several seasons, not just one. There is a good chance they won’t win it all this year, and in order to mature and take the next step in their journey towards being the best team they can be, they need to be able to accept a loss in the playoffs. If they follow Landeskog’s example, such a thing won’t be as difficult. In an article exclaiming his worthiness of being captain, Adrian Dater wrote: “He’s a tremendous player, but you never see Landeskog hot-dogging it after goals or trash talking the opposing bench. Landeskog acts like he’s been there before when scoring a goal, and that more will come. Landeskog is, above all, accountable. He’s the first to admit his mistakes, the first to say they must be rectified by him and only him. He is accountable to the media, answering as many questions as reporters want to throw at him. If he plays a great game, he always credits the teammates around him for making his job easier. If he plays a bad game, he doesn’t spread blame on others. Just him.
In reality, Colorado may have been riding a wave of excitement and surrealism into this years’ playoffs. There will be a point of desperation coming up, where the players’ experience will not have serviced them for the moment of truth, and they need someone the piggy-back on in order to survive the storm that separates the great teams from the winners. If all indications hold true to their current path, is it time for the capable Gabe Landeskog the rise up, and lead the way.
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