Everything went right for the Avalanche last year. They dominated the regular season with ease. They never went through slumps. They never had confidence issues. Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was having a Vezina Trophy type season. Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy had the Midas touch in his first year as a rookie coach.
The Avs won the Central Division last year by holding off the Blues by a point. They finished the regular season with a 55-22-8 record, and that was good enough to get 112 points. It seemed like they were destined to go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Avs did not know what hit them come playoff time. They struggled to hold off the pesky Wild. They did not win a game on the road in the first round. They couldn’t protect four one-goal leads against the Wild in Game 7 at home. In the end, they took a 5-4 overtime loss to the Wild in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
After everything that has gone right, it was a humbling experience for a young team that has so much learning to do. They needed to be tougher on defense. They needed their goaltender to shake off a bad goal. They needed to learn how to win a road game. This does not come overnight.
Maybe the Avs should have realized there would be trouble after everything was perfect. They were not equipped to handle a crisis when the going got tough. It’s part of the maturing process.
It will be interesting how they apply those lessons come playoff time this coming season. One has to think they should be there. They still have plethora of young stars to build around. Varlamov is good enough to win games in the regular season. Roy is good enough to get results out of his young team.
The Avalanche spent money this offseason in building a team. Rather than overpay to keep Paul Stastny, they allocated their money on guys like Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere and Brad Stuart. Avalanche president of hockey operations Joe Sakic and Roy knew they needed guys who know how to do well in the playoffs. They need veteran leadership to help their young stars.
They hope this can pay off this year. They are banking on it. The Avalanche executives knew the young players needed guidance after taking on a heavy load in the playoffs. As good as Nathan MacKinnon was in the playoffs, he shouldn’t be the only one doing all the dirty work in the playoffs.
It can’t hurt to have the veterans on the team. Often times, the old guys score in the playoffs. Those guys could be the difference makers for a young team that can get over the hump come playoff time.
Everything comes down to Varlamov. He has to be the difference maker for the Avs to go far in the playoffs. He wasn’t that guy last year. He was mediocre at best, and he played his worst game at the wrong time in Game 7.
It’s fair to say he wasn’t ready for the moment in Game 7. He did not know how to handle a big game like that. Roy can only do so much coaching with him. At some point, he has to step up.
Yes, his defense has to get tougher, and the Avs addressed that by signing Stuart. Still, he has to make saves. That’s what he is being paid to do. The great goaltenders find a way no matter how bad the defense is.
He has to find a way. If not, there’s a good chance the Avalanche will find another goaltender who can get it done.
Expectations are high for the Avalanche this year. This is not the cute little team that overachieved anymore. It’s about winning the Stanley Cup. Fans will settle for winning a playoff round, but players, coaching staff and executives are thinking big of winning the Cup.
That’s not a bad thing to dream big. Opportunities only come once, so the Avs have to take advantage of it. Roy and Sakic know this being they played in playoff games in their Hall of Fame career. They get it.
It will be interesting how they handle the pressure and journey of contending for a title this year.
How they handle it will determine if they make this spring something to remember.
Contact or Follow Leslie Monteiro: @LightRodWriter