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Avalanche playoffs

Dater Column: Avalanche, like Sisyphus, Can’t Get Over the Hump



As Deano sang, “Ain’t that a kick in the head.” For the third year in a row, the Avalanche is out after the second round of the NHL playoffs. So much for all that “learning what it takes to win” and “maturing into a winner.”

I don’t really know what to say about this Avs team right now. I thought this series with Vegas was over after Game 2. All they had to do was win two of the next five. They had won 11 in a row to that point. Instead, it finishes with four straight Ls and another early summer.

It’s just hard to believe right now that a team with Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabe Landeskog, Brandon Saad, Andre Burakovsky, Sam Girard, Devon Toews and Philipp Grubauer couldn’t win two out of the next five.

It’s going to be a long summer for Jared Bednar. The Avs coach, who completed his fifth season, has to ask how a team with as much, and here’s the ‘T’ word I can’t stand – talent – as his could lose four straight after winning 11 in a row, including the first six in the postseason.

To the question of “Will Bednar get a chance for a sixth?” I asked if job security will be something he thinks about, and he said, “I’m confident I can guide this team. I’m dedicated to this team, with my preparation, the relationships with the guys, confident in our coaching staff with the X’s and O’s. We’re always working to try and improve. If people want to point the finger at someone, I hope it’s me.

“I like the way our team operated this year, our regular season, first round. It’s a real good hockey team, it’s a great hockey team. I’m the leader of the hockey team, as the coach, and if people want to come at somebody, it’s me. I live by a motto of extreme ownership. I’m the one running the team, so I take responsibility.”

Joe Sakic will be the person who decides whether Bednar stays or goes. I’d say the odds are better than 50-50 he stays, but I also know this is the NHL, where shocking things happen all the time with coaches. And, there are some strong veteran names out there, including Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Bruce Boudreau, Mike Babcock, John Tortorella and Rick Tocchet.

Let’s get into some quick-hit thoughts on everything:

  • After such a great season to that point, I have to lay much of the blame for the final two losses at the feet of Grubauer. Five goals on 22 shots in Game 6. That’s a killer. And, while I know terrible turnovers helped lead to three goals in Game 5, Grubauer couldn’t bail his team out on any of them – and they were probably the only three really good scoring chances Vegas got in the final 40 minutes.
  • I’m sure the Avs will make him a nice offer as a potential unrestricted free agent. But his play the final two games didn’t help his leverage much. He’ll still get paid, of course, but Grubauer still hasn’t proven he’s a real “playoff goalie.”
  • The killer goal in Game 6 was the Alex Pietrangelo goal with 18 seconds left in the second period, in a 3-3 game. A couple of turnovers – by Girard and Patrik Nemeth – led to Pietrangelo sneaking down the right side and shooting a puck into the net after it caromed off the back boards. The Avs group on the ice gave a textbook lesson in what NOT to do in your own zone, from positioning to puck-handling.
  • I don’t know what happened to Girard in this series. He finished a -4 in Game 6. In the last four games, he had no points and a -9. A very disappointing finish to what had been his best season as a pro.
  • Tyson Jost was a -3 in Game 6 and he, too, just kind of disappeared in the final four games, with no points and a -5.
  • MacKinnon? Two assists in Game 6 with 10 shots attempted. Eight either missed the net or were blocked, however. Vegas did a good job hounding him, particularly Mark Stone. MacKinnon had no goals and three assists in the final five games.
  • J.T. Compher just didn’t get the job done in place of Nazem Kadri. Won’t shock me if he’s either exposed to Seattle or just traded.
  • Kadri, obviously, did his team no favors with the eight-game suspension. It looked like the Avs might not need him, but his absence became glaring as the Vegas series went along. The same two things I just said about Compher could be the case with Kadri, too.
  • Joe Sakic’s trade-deadline moves won’t go down in glory. One guy (Carl Soderberg) was often a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Another guy (Patrik Nemeth) gave away a lot of pucks and took some bad penalties. The other guy (Devan Dubnyk), well, we never got to see him play much.
  • Obviously, a lot of good things happened with this team this year. It should still be a team on the rise, but there’s no question this loss was/is a setback for the franchise. This was a year in which the Stanley Cup looked very gettable, especially after that Mikko OT goal in Game 2.
  • But some of the same, tired old issues came up again. They, again, seemed to get a bit big-headed, thinking ‘Hey, if we can win playing like we did in Game 2, with our 11th in a row, then maybe we’re pretty good.’ And then they went out and just got plain outworked in Games 3 and 4. By the time they got back to Denver, they played much better, but still seemed a bit rattled overall and found a way to give away the crucial Game 5.
  • The Avs don’t have the excuses they did last year, when seven guys fell off the roster after Game 1 against Dallas in the second round. This was a team that had very good health in the postseason, with the only regular out for any length of time being Kadri. Yeah, losing your No. 2 center for a series hurts.
  • But they had a 2-0 series lead without him and plenty of other good players available. Injuries/missing guys isn’t a good excuse this time.
  • I’ll be honest too: I think the city and state did the Avs no favors at all by clinging to that weird 10,500 capacity rule in Game 5, when the Denver Nuggets had already been given permission to seat a full house for their second-series games. Frankly, I thought it was a bit of a dead atmosphere for much of Game 5. The fans weren’t all that loud in the beginning, the game ops not particularly exciting to watch and it all added up to a less-than-ideal atmosphere from what you’d want in a rubber Game 5 at home. A full house could have made a difference for the Avs, we’ll never know.
  • I tried to ask a question to Nathan MacKinnon essentially saying “Do you think might just say (Bleep) it, maybe we should just go out there and not think so much” in future playoff series, vis a vis maybe the Avs are too much up in their heads when these second rounds occur. I was trying to talk to a guy in a real, plainspoken way in a tough moment for him. But I mangled the question and probably shouldn’t use profanity in post-game Zoom calls. Sorry. I guess I just try to talk like hockey people really talk sometimes, but that one didn’t translate well.
  • It’s been a pleasure writing for you all this year, and I know I speak for Scott MacDonald and Reagan Smith in saying that too. I didn’t want this to end so soon either, believe me. This loss sucks. This year was supposed to be different – a final-four appearance at least. Instead, it just quickly and almost sadistically ended in a four-game wipeout. I was all set to start hitting you up for Tip Jar money to get to Montreal, for what I have no doubt would have been a tremendously fun series. Instead, Vegas gets to go.
  • It sucks, but hockey is a cruel beast. We just have to lick our wounds for a while, then come back ready to try, try again.
  • And, of course, the coverage doesn’t stop just because the season is over. There will still be daily Avs content here until the puck drops for training camp.

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