Two potential Denver playoff teams played Tuesday night.
The one who will take the field on Thursday night has been mathematically eliminated.
If the Avalanche and Nuggets don’t have your attention yet, they should. Both teams could make their respective tournaments come the spring. Meanwhile, the Broncos will miss out on the postseason for the second year in a row.
This isn’t about bashing the Broncos.
We’ll forever be grateful for their three Super Bowl titles, with more almost certainly to come. But this is a public service announcement that there’s more going on in town than just the depressing boys in Orange and Blue.
Let’s start with the Avalanche, who might still be a season away, but are clearly a much better team than the one that finished with the worst record in the NHL’s shootout era a season ago.
One night after getting a dramatic, gritty win in Pittsburgh, they lost to Washington 5-2 on the second night of a brutal back-to-back; but let’s be honest, a victory against the Capitals would have been gravy on a successful road trip.
Right now, Nathan MacKinnon is a beast. Ever since Joe Sakic unloaded Matt Duchene — and got a haul for the disgruntled center — MacKinnon has looked like a top-10 player. He’s been that good, even earning honors as the NHL’s First Star for the month for November. Release the beast, Mackinnon hasn’t looked this promising since his rookie year.
And then there’s Gabriel Landeskog, who is everything Matt Duchene isn’t. He’s a guy loyal to this team and to this city. His favorite player growing up was fellow Swede Peter Forsberg, and Landeskog is committed to seeing this rebuild through and bringing Colorado another Stanley Cup.
Landeskog’s four-game suspension for cross-checking the obnoxious Matthew Tkachuk really hurt, as the Avs went 1-3 in his absence, but Landy took responsibility and didn’t even appeal the harsh suspension. That kind of self-awareness deserves to be applauded. Landeskog is exactly the leader this bunch needs.
After that, you’ve got the intriguing Stephen Girard (a key piece in the Duchene trade) and rising stars like Mikko Rantanen and Alexander Kerfoot. Throw in the fact Semyon Varlamov has shown some early signs of returning to his top form, and they could mess around and sneak into the Western Conference playoffs.
As of now they’re five points out of a Wild Card spot, but with 12 of their next 15 at home, this team could get hot in a hurry.
Even if they don’t get in this year, it’s clear Sakic was smart to wait on the Duchene trade and that head coach Jared Bednar has the Avs trending in the right direction.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday night in Detroit, the Nuggets played arguably their best defensive game of the year, winning 103-84 and dominating the Pistons.
It’s popular to bash the Nuggets right now, as frustrated fans think they should be better than their 15-12 record, but take a step back and realize how silly that sounds. This team has improved every single year under head coach Michael Malone. They’ve had a couple of tough losses, but that’s what happens to young teams.
Especially young teams playing without their two best players.
The injuries to Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic were products of bad luck. But both players should return this season, Millsap down the road, and Jokic at some point in the next few days (even Wednesday against Boston, possibly).
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are the real deal. Inconsistent at times, sure, but remember they’re a combined 43-years old. Murray can’t even legally drink. A little bit of patience with the two will go a long way — they could be a dynamic duo for the next decade.
Meanwhile, Will Barton’s a possible Sixth Man of the Year. Malik Beasley and Trey Lyles are both showing they deserve minutes. Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried are accepting roles that may get a little smaller. Mason Plumlee hustles his butt off, and Emmanuel Mudiay is showing signs year three will be better than year two.
At this point, while the Avs get a pass, it’d be disappointing if the Nuggets miss the playoffs. It’s time — and people in the organization seem to know it’s time. The Western Conference only has nine teams that look like they’re worthy of being in the dance; Denver must find a way to be one of the eight that gets in.
If Tuesday night you couldn’t make time for the Avalanche or Nuggets, but you fully plan on watching the Broncos on Thursday, take a step back and realize there are other teams in town.
And the Avs and Nugs are more intriguing than Vance Joseph’s bunch.
John Elway will fix this mess. I trust that. In the meantime, you have different options in two squads that could make the playoffs this spring.
Make sure the teams over at Pepsi Center get some of your attention; right now they’re doing a little more winning.