It didn’t matter when the Colorado Avalanche blew out the Nashville Predators 7-2 in Game 1, scoring five goals in the opening frame to chase temporary starting netminder David Rittich from the cage and possibly the series.
It didn’t matter when rookie Connor Ingram stoned the Avs 49 times in Game 2, requiring Colorado to put forth 102 shot attempts before something, anything finally got through him in overtime to push the series lead to 2-0.
It doesn’t matter whether Juuse Saros might return to the lineup—he won’t given the whispers that it’s a high-ankle sprain that typically takes upwards of six weeks to heal from—or if Ingram or Rittich is starting in goal in Game 3 in Tennessee.
#Preds Head Coach John Hynes says goaltender Juuse Saros (lower-body) “will not be in” for Game 3. Connor Ingram will start Game 3 for Nashville. Hynes says all other lineup decisions are still being evaluated. #StanleyCup
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) May 6, 2022
The Avalanche are focused on the singular purpose of winning the Stanley Cup, and very little can get in the way of that.
“We’ve already gone over Rittich, and we’ve gone over Ingram,” head coach Jared Bednar said Friday of preparations for Game 3. “We’ve held off on Saros, but it’s prepared. If we get word that he’s coming in, we’ll show it to our guys.”
It matters not, but what does affect how this series—and each one beyond it—goes is the club’s preparation and focus. I can safely say, in my years with and around the franchise, I’ve never seen an Avalanche team so dedicated to that end.
Sure, many a player has generally said the right things and conducted themselves in a way that would give the impression that winning was everything, but this team exudes that mentality in a way that you know it to be true for the first time since probably 2002.
So what’s changed?
“Just our mentality, I think. Our approach is something that you have to start with,” Nazem Kadri said on Friday. “In the playoffs, it’s easy to get sidetracked or anxious or whatever the case may be. I think we’re pretty poised. We’ve become more mature through what’s happened to us in the past—devastating losses—and I think you got to walk before you can run. So all that experience, I think, is a build up to what we can do for the future. So far, we’ve handled it really well. Like I said, it’s all positive, everyone looks out for each other, and, it’s really what you want from a team.”
Experience, and heartbreak, goes a long way in galvanizing a team, sculpting them into a contender. You can contrast that with the lack of it on the other bench, which is something that has come into play—particularly in Game 1.
There’s nerves. There’s anxiety. And finding ways to handle those things takes time and conversation.
“There’s those initial nerves for sure, right? I think for a lot of guys who haven’t been in kind of high stakes playoff situations it’s tough, and I think it is a natural reaction.” Predators defenseman Mark Borowiecki said on Wednesday. “I think the more we all know in this room that we have our teammates and our brothers to lean on, I think the better it is for everyone, and the easier it is to kind of reset…”
It’s precisely this point where Nashville is, the place where Colorado once was, that serves to delineate the trajectory of these two teams. Nashville is having conversations about support and teaching how to rely on each other in the face of adversity. The Avalanche is a machine that may never be stopped thanks to a stick-together, next-man-up mindset.
That aspect is ingrained in the Avalanche locker room. New guys like Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano commented on it upon joining the club.
Hell, Cogliano even said he liked that this squad was so focused that they no longer play pregame two-touch with a soccer ball in a heavily trafficked hallway somewhere.
But it’s the bond that forms from shared goals, grouped beliefs, unified trust, and the unforgettable sting of unmet expectations and falling short that informs Colorado’s singular focus.
They know the details that are important, like a defense-first mindset that leads to offense—as evidenced on Nathan McKinnon’s goal on Thursday—and they’re not concerned with what the other team does.
This Avalanche iteration holds their own fate in their own hands.