EDITOR’S NOTE: Mile High Sports Magazine contributing writer and author Terry Frei has covered the Avalanche since its 1995 arrival in Denver. He will be writing commentaries during Colorado’s 2021 playoff run for the MHS site.
There’s so much Widespread Panic about the Avalanche’s performance in the Western Division second round against the Golden Knights, it’s appropriate the legendary group is coming to Red Rocks later this month for a three-night stand.
As I understand it, the Avalanche is in a deep hole in this series, trailing Vegas by the intimidating margin of two games to two after the home team won the first four. After two stinkers in Las Vegas, the Avs have Game 5 at home Tuesday night — where they haven’t lost since March 8.
Since March 8.
Three months ago.
The Avs were 16-0-1 at home down the stretch of the regular season and are 4-0 at home in the playoffs. The full five-on-five, until-somebody-scores playoff overtime dynamic throws an apple in with the oranges, but those records still are pertinent.
This calls for panic?
The NHL playoffs are the most grueling physical and mental test of all pro sports postseasons.
Success requires resilience. Winning the Cup is about a body of work and not single games. In many cases, it’s about earning home-ice — and taking advantage of it, even if home losses are sprinkled in along the way, requiring a few wins on the road.
In 1996, the Avalanche lost six playoff games on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.
In 2001, the Avalanche lost seven playoff games on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.
I’ve also covered many other NHL series not involving the Avalanche over the years.
The common denominator tends to be overreaction to single losses from fans, media and even players and coaches.
At least with the coaches, as when they deliver stinging messages about effort, they’re doing what coaches do. (Do you really believe effort is a problem in playoff games? Really?)
That overreaction happened here after most Avs losses, both in those championship runs and in the years they came up short. Granted, when the attitude is Cup or Bust, some of the criticized deficiencies turned out to be fatal flaws in the non-championship years. But I don’t believe that’s going to be the case in 2021.
I’m not making excuses for them. They stunk in the two games in Las Vegas and haven’t played well since Game 1.
But, really, the cliches are true.
The series hasn’t started.
It’s now a best-of-three with the Avalanche still having the home-ice advantage.
“The part that gives me confidence is the way our team has played at home and the energy we’ve been able to come up with in the legs and our skating, and our tenacity on pucks at home,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Monday. “That’s been a positive and we have two of the next three at home. I know our guys will be excited.”
It very well could come down to a Game 7 at Ball Arena Saturday.
The Avalanche’s most storied team, the 2001 champions, had to go seven games twice to win series — against the Kings in the Western Conference Finals and against the Devils in the Cup Final. There was plenty of panic around here during both those series, especially when the Avs trailed New Jersey 3-2.
I picked the Avalanche to win the Cup this season.
I’m not backing down.
Absolutely, the Avalanche needs to get its act together in the next three games, or its season will be over.
They’ll do it.
Nathan MacKinnon and the top line — and tinkering with it, as Bednar has done at times in this series, should be verboten — and Cale Makar have to provide the spark.
The defense, whether it’s with the struggling Patrik Nemeth or otherwise, has to be better than it was the past three games.
Philipp Grubauer has to hold up. (By the way, the tendency to attach an asterisk to the Game 2 win because the Avs were outplayed and Grubauer was larcenous is curious. That’s a major part of the Stanley Cup formula, winning a few that way. See Roy, Patrick.)
Denver is not alone in this tendency to overreact, of course.
Scribes especially are prone to being on the bandwagon on a Tuesday, then writing off the boys as inept choke artists on, say, Friday.
Bednar Monday acknowledged that even the home ice holding up at the outset of a series can involve momentum shifts. The trick is to not let the Knights’ momentum carry over.
“I’m confident the guys know, especially after the (team) meeting the other night, on what we need to do more of and what we need to eliminate out of our game to have success,” Bednar said. “Now keep in mind we’re playing a team that we tied with in points over 56 games and now are tied with in a four-game series. They’re going to make it hard on you.
“Right now, they’re making it harder on us than we are on them. But we know that we have that ability. You can see it in other series. It’s not unique to our series where a team catches momentum and starts to go. Now it’s up to us to go take it from them. Once a team gets going, you have to fight extra hard in order to try and steal that momentum one piece at a time. . . It’s always important in a playoff series to move on the right way after wins and after losses. Certainly that’s really important for us coming into Game 5.”
If the Avalanche loses that Game 5 Tuesday night at home?
That’s the time for panic. Push the button. Scream it through the hallways.
Not until then.
Terry Frei is a seven-time winner of a state’s sportswriter of the year award. Among his seven books are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age,” and “Olympic Affair.” Info is available on his web site, www.terryfrei.com