AVALANCHE

While people were counting out the Avs, they found their championship fire

Jan 24, 2023, 6:00 AM
Colorado Avalanche goal...
(Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Don’t wake a sleeping giant.

It could squash you.

That’s what the Colorado Avalanche did to the rest of the NHL the past 10 days. After hitting rock bottom with an embarrassing 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks on Jan. 12, the Avs have caught fire. They look like the team that hoisted the Stanley Cup seven months ago, even if several key players are missing.

At practice on Jan. 13, Colorado took the ice about 20 minutes late. Head coach Jared Bednar said the practice time got moved, but it feels like the worst kept secret they had some kind of team meeting. Well, it worked. Since that moment, the Avalanche are 5-0, and have outscored opponents 23-6. That’s outstanding.

Triumphs at Ball Arena over Ottawa and Detroit are nice, but collecting all six points on a three-game Northwest swing without Cale Makar? That’s what championship teams do. And while Vancouver is a mess, wins over Calgary and Seattle are nothing to scoff at. The Avs are battling the Flames for a Wild Card spot, while the Kraken will almost assuredly make the postseason in just their second year of existence.

And while just getting into the dance is all that really matters for the Avs, don’t look now, but they’re hunting down the Wild for a top-3 spot in the Central division. The Avalanche are just one point back of a Minnesota team that’s dropped a couple in a row.

Considering Colorado didn’t lose a single road playoff game on their way to winning the Western Conference a season ago, it doesn’t really matter where they skate this summer. The even beat the Lightning twice in Tampa Bay while winning the Final. The team looked looser on the road, and weighed down a bit by the expectations at Ball Arena.

There’s a reason the oddsmakers currently give the Avs the second best shot at taking home another Cup. When you have the two best players on planet Earth and three of the top-10, nothing is impossible. Makar and Nathan MacKinnon playing on the same team is borderline unfair. Mikko Rantanen has been Colorado’s best player this season. Amid all the injury issues, he’s kept the boat floating above water.

This is where Bednar deserves an immense amount of credit as well. We knew his job was possibly on the line a season ago, and he passed that test with flying colors. What’s he do for an encore? He unites a team that went through a miserable 1-6-1 stretch and leads them to five victories in a row.

We all saw Bednar’s sloppy, drunken speech at the parade last summer, and it was awesome. He earned that moment and could do whatever he wanted that day. But he’s also regained his laser focus and composure that makes him such an excellent head coach. It’s clear whatever was said in that non-meeting, meeting rallied the locker room.

So frankly, the sky is the limit for this bunch. All that chatter about back-to-back titles is completely fair game once again. There’s no reason we can’t see “Bedsy” have one many too many pops again this year, as title celebrations become the norm in downtown Denver.

The Avalanche will need their captain to return at some point. Gabriel Landeskog remains the lone mystery of a team that is getting healthier. Even if he can just get 15 games under his belt in March and April, that will be plenty before the playoffs. However, it is hard to see the Avs winning the whole thing without his leadership and offensive contributions.

But for everyone around the country (and even some folks in this state) that counted the Avalanche out, that was clearly a mistake. They’re too talented to just fold. The last five games have proved as much.

Now, it gets fun again. The group’s confidence is back and they look crazy dangerous. Don’t wake a sleeping giant. Because it will squash you.

***

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