It took until the 82nd game of the regular season, but the Colorado Avalanche finally did it – they completed the most improbable comeback hockey fans have seen in a long time. One win, that’s all they needed to punch their ticket as the final team to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Avs got the necessary regulation win. They capped the season off with 95 points and outlasted the Blues for the second Wildcard position in the Western Conference. Next up is a best of seven series against the President Trophy winning Nashville Predators. It’s incredibly unlikely that the Avalanche will go any further, but with the way this season has gone, should anybody count them out?
No one can claim this Avalanche team was the biggest surprise of the season – we have the Vegas Golden Knights to blame for that – but what Colorado accomplished this season was unbelievable.
It was only 12 months ago that the Colorado Avalanche were the laughing stock of the NHL. They had just finished the worst season in modern NHL history and there wasn’t a whole lot to be optimistic about. A 48 point season that had fans despondent and players requesting trades away from the franchise.
This season was unbelievable for a number of reasons. The team left training camp under the dark cloud of Matt Duchene trade rumors. Everyone who was paying attention knew he wanted out of Denver and it was a storyline that engulphed the Avalanche - probably to deflect from the failure of last season.
A month into the season, the Duchene trade finally went down. Joe Sakic went from being mocked for holding on to his talented forward too long, to being lauded for the exorbitant price he got the Ottawa Senators to pay.
This became a new team. You could see a weight lifted off of the shoulders of the core group. Anyone that watched the Avalanche play on a regular basis quickly saw a team that was one of the most exciting in the NHL.
Buoyed by a ten game winning streak to start 2018, the Avalanche started to force people to take notice of their place in the standings.
Though the climb to the playoffs was a memorable one, it definitely didn’t come easily. The Avalanche have suffered through extended injuries to their best defenseman, their starting goalie, the backup goalie that carried them through a hot streak, and the superstar forward that has the best offensive player in the league this season.
The team that clinched the playoff birth last night iced a blueline of Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov, a 19-year old rookie and three defenders they claimed off waivers.
It’s been an improbable run. It’s taken an influx of youthful exuberance and a Hart Trophy-worthy season from Nathan MacKinnon. Against all odds, the Avalanche are a playoff team. Everything from here on out is a bonus.
There is absolutely no pressure on this team going into the playoffs. You’re going to see a lot of “Nashville in five” prognostications. Like with the entire season, no one will give the Avs a chance - and something tells me coach Bednar & Co. wouldn’t want it any other way.
Back in September, none of us would have expected to see Avalanche hockey later than April 7th. Now it’s coming. This team isn’t supposed to be here. I suggest we all enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.