Frei: It ain’t over for the Avs ’til … it’s over

Apr 18, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) trips over the skate of Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to read like a eulogy.

Although the NHL will insist on going through with the formality of playing Game 5 Friday night at Nashville, the first-round series effectively ended with the Predators’ 3-2 win over the Avalanche in Game 4.

That’s not an attempt to contrive controversy, to generate outrage, to bring on lectures that the Avalanche is being sold short — especially given that Colorado came back from a 3-0 deficit after two periods to make the pivotal Game 4 interesting again.

On the contrary, this is about giving the Avalanche credit for a surprising season, and for nearly doubling its point total after a historically horrific 2016-17. Plus, this is a concession up front that Colorado would have had a shot in this series with Semyon Varlamov in the net and Erik Johnson on defense … but not without.

Think of the Predators without Pekka Rinne and P.K. Subban.

It is reasonable to ponder it as a bit of comparative whimsy, not as an alibi or rationalization.

The Avs missed Johnson and as Varlamov’s stand-in, Jonathan Bernier hasn’t been up to the standards of the postseason. Plus, he left the game late in the second period Wednesday night with a lower body injury.

Afterwards, Nathan MacKinnon, who had five shots on goal on a pointless night, was more frustrated than angry.

“We had a good third, obviously,” MacKinnon told me in the Avalanche dressing room as the mob went elsewhere. “The first 40, they came out way better than us and they deserved to win. . . We heard them say they wanted to have a good start after they didn’t have a good start in Game 3. They definitely did that.

“I thought in the first three games we had better starts than them, and tonight they had a better start than us. I think the first two games were more frustrating, just because we were really good hockey. We were playing from behind tonight, but we needed to play more desperate before the third.”

The defining moment in Game 4 was when Filip Forsberg outmaneuvered Avalanche defenseman Duncan Siemens and beat Bernier for the first goal of the night at 15:33 of the first period. Siemens, who has spent most of his pro career in the AHL as an Avalanche farmhand, is much-liked and respected for his professionalism and perseverance, but the fact that he was in the lineup as part of the patchwork D corps in the wake of the injuries to Johnson and Samuel Girard was telling.

Plus, his failure to come even close to living up to expectations that go with being the 11th overall choice of the 2011 draft was the leading edge in the argument that the Avalanche hadn’t drafted well, especially on defense, for several years leading into the Joe SakicPatrick Roy partnership.

This team has reinvigorated Denver as a hockey market. It has built excitement for the future to the point that next season’s standards and expectations will be much higher, ensuring that making the postseason won’t be viewed as an accomplishment as much as it will be a must.

That’s the situation the Predators, last season’s No. 8 Western Conference payoff seed before storming through to the Stanley Cup Finals, found themselves in this season. It was a factor in the win-now mode that was at play in the three-team deal that sent prospects Girard and Vladislav Kamenev plus a second-round pick move from Nashville to Colorado.

For the record about this series: It ain’t over ’til …

“I guess we’re due for a win there,” MacKinnon said. “Hopefully, we can get one game, Game 5, and come back to the Pepsi Center. We know that they’re not going to want to come back here. They’re going to want to close it out and hopefully we can take advantage of that and play a good game.”

… it’s over.

*    *    *

Terry Frei of the Greeley Tribune writes two commentaries a week for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair,” about 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris, and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado. 

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @tfrei

Terry Frei’s MHS Commentary/Story Archive:

Avs’ best shot is Bernier stealing a game … or three

Nashville hitting all the right notes as NHL city

The man from Saskatchewan has paid his dues … a lot of dues 

Remember when making the playoffs wasn’t so monumental?

How’s this for half full?

The obligations of stardom for MacKinnon, line

An Avs’ playoff berth can be flashback 

Here come the Knights … now and maybe in postseason

Nathan MacKinnon’s MVP talk becoming more legit

Amid March Madness, how the NBA should emulate the NHL 

Nathan, good intentions, bad idea 

Fourteen years ago, Steve Moore played his final game for the Avalanche

Avalanche going into final month in control of own destiny

Is Duncan Siemens becoming more than an “organization” guy?

At least here, NHL trading deadline was much ado about very, very little

Avalanche standing pat wouldn’t be irresponsible inertia

If the NHL stays away again, USA Hockey should be all-collegians

Just your average Harvard guy from West Vancouver

As MacKinnon skates closer to return, Avs have stayed in the playoff hunt

Bowman Brothers Reunion with the Colorado Eagles in final season as Avs’ ECHL affiliate

The longer Bernier can hold the net, the better off the Avalanche will be

Magazine: Interview with DU local product — and Olympian — Troy Terry  

Magazine: Nordic Combined ace Bryan Fletcher beat childhood cancer 

Magazine: Arvada-raised Olympic snowboarder Chris Corning  

Magazine: Mikaela Shiffrin can add Olympic glory in amazing season

Magazine: Lindsey Vonn shooting to stay healthy, go for gold 

Magazine: Lakewood’s Nicole Hensley is USA’s backup goalie

Magazine: Gateway High Olympian Stephen Garbett

Don’t let MacKinnon injury knock the Avalanche off course

NHL, Avs heading back to work, not Olympics

A Tale of Avalanche All-Stars, past and present

All Aboard! Avalanche bandwagon gains momentum

A kid in Long Beach and his first stick

Jonathan Bernier on taking over the Avalanche net

Nathan MacKinnon doesn’t mind not being recognized … at the mall

Glory Days … Now get Springsteen out of your head

Sakic/Bednar and Elway/Joseph: Eerie parallels

Carl Soderberg goes from albatross to asset

Magazine: Jim Montgomery is Mile High Sports’ college coach of the year

Magazine: Will Butcher is Mile High Sports’ college athlete of the year 

Varlamov playing better than the numbers might indicate 

At the Christmas break, Avalanche is last — but still a turnaround story  

Tyson Barrie isn’t pictured, but he’s in the Avalanche picture 

On this (unnamed) line, Gabe Landeskog amps up the scoring

Avalanche rushing game involves Girard and Jost

And the Nathan MacKinnon answer is… 

Noted hockey pundit Yogi Berra would call this deja vu all over again

MacKinnon and O’Reilly meet again

Catching up with Jared Bednar

Gabe Landeskog has to be smarter, and he’s the first to say so

For Avalanche, winning back fans isn’t easy, either

Horseman/defenseman Erik Johnson up to playing marathon minutes

Ring of Famer Red Miller, Part One: Coal Miner’s son

Ring of Famer Red Miller, Part Two: About those %$#@ Raiders… 

This time a year ago, the wheels fell off 

Post-trade: On Girard and Kamenev

Matt Duchene heads to Ottawa

Stockholm is a Homecoming for Landeskog

Why Can’t MacKinnon do that every night?

And this Avalanche team is?

At the Pepsi Center, you’ll think you’re in Chicago

Is Zadorov ready to be – and stay – a top-pairing “D”?

For this is to work, Bernier has to be better

This isn’t just Jared Bednar’s second season. It’s his second chance.

Sven (The Reindeer) Andrighetto speedily skating into Avalanche forefront

With Avalanche off to another 3-1 start, leadership is a “core” issue

Magazine: Colorado Eagles’ class act in Northern Colorado

Magazine: Avalanche convinced a turnaround is possible

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