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Boulding: Maybe this Avs team really IS special

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Andre Burakovsky
David Zalubowski/AP

By Ryan Boulding

You didn’t think it would be easy, did you?

The Colorado Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup. Being an Avs fan during a pandemic. Having those weird feelings when seeing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the wrong team’s sweater. Existing in this topsy-turvy bizarro world. Reading my writing.

Winning after a prolonged break.

Historically, the Avalanche haven’t been great after season stoppages. Don’t believe me? Go look up their record in the first game after the Christmas holiday sabbatical. I’ll wait.

What you’ll find is, in the recent annals of history, it hasn’t been ideal for the Avs.

The club won this year though—as it has done many times of late—and perhaps that noise you hear far away over the horizon isn’t the sound of hell freezing over but of the trend changing for the burgundy and blue.

Maybe it is as easy as Colorado seems to make it look each night.

After all, Tampa Bay is no slouch and they were behind right from the start. The club entered Thursday’s tilt ranked third in the Eastern Conference and full up with 2022 All-Stars Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The thing about the Avs though is they were given the stamp of approval from general manager Joe Sakic, who before the contest lauded his club’s never-say-die ethos.

“There’s no quit in this team,” Sakic told reporters in one of his rare media appearances. “Unlike other years, especially in January, we’ve come back in games where other years we might not have.”

“Guys are believing in each other.”

Add to that the fact that the squad had their own All-Stars, Nazem Kadri and Cale Makar, making just as much or more noise out on the ice, and yet another victory was never in doubt.

You saw it in the first period when the Avs dominated the frame and skated away to a 2-1 lead. You saw it again in the second stanza when the home team again kept pace and took a 3-2 difference into the dressing room.

But for curmudgeons like me, there was still this nagging question about Colorado’s ability to hold on.

Silly, I know, but Tampa is the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. And you had to wonder if they were (we are?) doomed to repeat history? The Avs, that is. Hopefully not the Bolts.

Since the last time the NHL acquiesced and allowed its players to grace the Winter Olympics with their outsized talent, the Avalanche had not won a game following various All-Star festivities in many cities not named Denver. That’s right, including last year—when there was no such celebration of all things NHL but there was a prolonged stoppage for the squad from the Mile High City—Colorado was 0-5-2.

That’s seven years of setting a bad precedent for the remainder of the season. Until tonight, when this streaking squad held on through the waning minutes of a Feb. 10 contest when the Lightning were throwing everything they could at Darcy Kuemper and his rearguards to win 3-2.

You’re likely thinking by now, “who the h-e-double-hockey-sticks cares about one game in the complete 82-game slate, especially because it was a win?”

But what if I told you that five of the last seven Stanley Cup winners won the first game following All-Star weekend? The Chicago Blackhawks, in 2015, and Tampa Bay, in 2020, are the only teams since 2015 to lose the first match back and go on to hoist the sweetest chalice in all of sports.

(In 2021, Tampa Bay won eight of its first 10 games in lieu of an All-Star break.)

So it’s basically a trend. And while it’s possible that this one game on a fine Thursday in February doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things—aside from being a fantastic contest against a very good opponent—it’s also possible that setting the tone from this point on can lead to success at the furthest end of the 2021-22 campaign.

There are 37 matches remaining, and this one was a step toward overcoming that second-round exit stigma for the Avalanche.

There are still things to work on, like decision-making. Landeskog mentioned it after the match and Sakic brought it up during his time with Marc Moser in the broadcast booth.

“We do have to get better in one area… and that’s puck decisions, puck management…” the Hockey Hall of Fame forward admitted. “If you’re up, I think you’ve just got to be a lot smarter with the puck and not make those little plays… that will hurt you.”

But for now, things are looking good in Avalancheland. Bucking these trends are what you want to see from a team expected to go all the way.

Follow Ryan Boulding on Twitter @rboulding

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