It would be easy, after the way the Colorado Avalanche played in the regular season, to worry a little bit following the team’s first defeat of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean the team lost a mere 26 times in 82 games this season, 19 of them in regulation.
The L’s didn’t come often, and perhaps that was a bit enabling for fans who are just so accustomed to winning. But here we are, the day after a loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round.
“It’s one game,” head coach Jared Bednar said on Thursday night, encouraging a reasoned response from all who were panicking. “We knew this was going to be a long, hard series. This is a really good team. They answered back after a bad night in Game 1. Now the onus is on us. We have to do the exact same thing. So we’ll make a couple adjustments and we’re gonna have to get back to work.”
And get back to work they did on Friday. After originally planning on taking it easy, the Avs changed gears and held a practice prior to heading to St. Louis with the series tied up 1-1.
“We went through some stuff this morning, had one meeting showing some of those mistakes. We know what we have to do and we weren’t very good at it. That’s No. 1,” Bednar said Friday. “And then we have a few other adjustments that we need to make and areas that we have to improve on. But we’re going to save a few of those for tomorrow as we get a little bit more time to finish up [last night’s] game. But yeah, guys are in good spirits. They understand it. It’s about us, mostly. Mostly about us.”
For a team that has worked hard to play the right way, a team that isn’t satisfied with winning if the result comes at the expense of the process, a game with high stakes that comes without “jump” or the regular effort expected is one of the ultimate disappointments.
But it’s not time to panic.
“We’ve done a nice job responding after losses all year long. I mean I can’t even remember, I don’t even know when we [last] lost back-to-back,” Bednar said. “Right at the end of the year where we had that little slump at the end of the year and before that I couldn’t even tell you when it was. Generally when we’ve addressed things as a team, our guys have responded and played well and played hard. It doesn’t always guarantee a win, but our guys have done a nice job elevating their game after losses and understanding what we did right, what we did wrong, where we need to improve, what we need to keep doing. They’re in tune with it.”
“Our philosophy is you’re not going to win in the playoffs if you don’t bring your best game. Well, everyone’s watched us play all year, and last night wasn’t even close. So you can’t expect to go in and play a team like St. Louis, who finished with 100 and whatever points and then think that you’re going to win if you’re not playing your best.”
Sometimes another team inserts themselves into the equation, and that’s what the Blues did on Thursday. They made line changes, they clogged lanes, they reduced time and space, and they scored more goals than the Avalanche.
But at least one member of the team dismissed that aspect of the loss.
“I think it was more just us not playing to our strengths and not playing how we can play, like we played in Game 1,” Mikko Rantanen said. “So I think it’s just like Nate said, just [have a] short memory here and move on and try to learn from that game. We know we can play a lot better than that.”
Like Ted Lasso said, be a goldfish.
But there can be no passengers in the postseason, and unfortunately the Avalanche have a couple right now. Nazem Kadri has only scored once, in Game 3 against the Nashville Predators. Andre Burakovsky’s only points came in Game 4 in Tennessee. MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Artturi Lehkonen have no markers so far in this series.
And sure, his seven assists look good on a stats page, but Rantanen’s zero goals appear far worse after six playoff contests.
“Do you think Mikko is playing his best hockey that you’ve seen him play? Okay, well so that’s it,” Bednar said of his club’s regular-season goals and points leader. “There’s things that we show him, we talk to him about. He needs to get to the net and shoot the puck more, but again it goes back to you got to play your best hockey at the most important time. That’s now. So he’s got to get going a little bit, and it’s not just last night’s game. We need him to be an impact player. That’s what you need from your players in the playoffs.”
“So there’s lots of things you can do a little bit better. And you’d take incremental increases in play in a bunch of different areas and it turns out to be a really good game for him. We know he’s capable of it, and he’ll come around. We’ve got a couple of guys here that they’re going to have to go. This is going to be a tough series.”
This club, although empowered by depth throughout the season and down the stretch, needs its best players to produce, like Bednar said. They’re simply having a hard time doing that, and credit should go to the Blues.
When asked if he considered uniting a powerful top line of Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen—the way Blues bench boss Craig Berube stacked Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan O’Reilly, and David Perron in Game 2—Colorado’s coach balked a bit at the idea.
“Landeskog, Kadri, and Lehkonen was our best line in Game 1,” he said. “Dominant line in Game 1.”
There’s a benefit and a drawback to changing that pairing for the sake of another.
But while all eyes are on how the Avalanche responds to this first, faintest taste of adversity in the playoffs, some should be looking at Rantanen. He had 36 goals and 92 points this year. He can’t continue like this if the Avs are going to have any shot at hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Like Makar said on Friday, parroting the organization’s marketing slogan as a mantra.
“It’s playoff time. You have to find a way.”