Colorado Avalanche Leadership Preparing for the Playoffs

DENVER, CO - APRIL 07: Gabriel Landeskog
DENVER, CO - APRIL 07: Gabriel Landeskog /

Colorado Avalanche leaders are ready to take on the playoffs, even though it’s an uphill battle against a very good team.

The Colorado Avalanche are heading into pretty much unfamiliar territory starting Thursday. They begin their first playoff appearance since 2014. For most of the players, they have only a handful, if any, of playoff games under their belt.

However, when you’re a young team “growing up together,” you have to find ways learn together. The Avalanche leadership is taking on that role.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog, who famously said that he didn’t “give a shit” about detractors on live TV (and also the famous “balls out all the way” quote from 2015) had more somber words away from the heat of the moment.

After practice on Monday, Landeskog remarked that he didn’t see his 2014 playoff experience as helping him too much in preparing for the Nashville series because it’s a different team and a different season. He explained:

"“We’re the underdogs now. Back then we won the division, had home ice. I think if anything, it’s a different team. It’s a new season. We were the 2-seed going into that series, and they (Minnesota Wild) were the 7-seed.”"

Naturally we all remember the pain of that Game 7 overtime loss. However, the captain saw the positive in how that series played out:

"“It just goes to show that they beat us in Game 7. They took care of their home games, and we took care of ours and ended up losing in OT in Game 7…It doesn’t matter what you’re going in there with or what ranking or whatever, it’s happened before. It’s a new series.”"

Boy, are the Colorado Avalanche ever the underdogs. They just squeaked into the playoffs with that electric game against the Blues at home. Unfortunately, that means their first dance partner is the Nashville Predators, the Presidents’ Trophy winners and a favorite to win it all this season.

That said, the Predators are a Central Division rival. And though Colorado has struggled to beat them in the last couple years, Landeskog feels like the team knows what the Preds are all about:

"“They have a really deep lineup that is good and obviously [goaltender Pekka] Rinne is playing real well. He might win the Vezina [Trophy, best goalie] this year. Their D-core is real active. We know that they’ll be jumping up the ice all the time and try to create a lot of offense from the backend.”"

It’s going to be a tough match up, for sure. Honestly, I think a lot of us in Avs Nation are just hoping Colorado doesn’t get swept. However, going back to our 2014 series against the Wild — the Avs had dominated them all season and went into the playoffs as the Central Division champions.

That’s what makes the NHL Playoffs so exciting — once you get in, anything can happen.

Moving along to alternate captain, and the man largely responsible for getting the Avs into the playoffs, Nathan MacKinnon echoed that he didn’t think his 2014 playoff experience was going to be a big boon in his post-practice presser:

"“Obviously, it’s nice, it’s the second time in the playoffs so it’s not totally new, but it was a long time ago. We have a different team, different situation. Definitely a new challenge for us this year.”"

To be fair, that was MacKinnon’s first year in the NHL. He was literally 18 — younger than our little rookie defenseman, Sam Girard, is now. In those playoffs, though, as a rookie, he had two goals and eight assists for a total of 10 points in seven games. One of those goals was the game winner. Pretty impressive.

Also like Landeskog, MacKinnon is eyeing the series as a fresh start:

"“We want to give ourselves a chance to win and we have. You know, it took until the last game but we got in. Anything can happen now. We’re excited, we’re excited for the challenge. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy against the Presidents’ [Trophy]-winning team.”"

If Nathan MacKinnon gets hot again, using his slick goal against the Blues as a springboard, beating the Predators actually can happen. But the players have to remain even keel.

Perhaps the king of even keel on the current team — besides Mr. Ice in His Veins Girard — is J.T. Compher, whom I think of as the leader of the rookies. Color announcer Peter McNab once described him as having a “dead-eyed stare” and I think that’s as apt a description as any.

In any case, he spoke during Tuesday’s post-practice presser:

"“[Staying even keel] is what you have to do when you face adversity… But we’ve got a good core of guys that has kept us going. Great leadership keeping us focused no matter what the moment was.”"

Like Gabe and Nate, JT thinks anything can happen in a seven-game series. What I like about his way of thinking is his emphasis on focus. That’s something the Colorado Avalanche has lacked. They can’t always maintain a consistent focus — and it seems like Nashville the city has been a particularly hard place to focus for them.

However, as Compher points out, the team has had to stay focused to even get where they are:

"“We’ve been playing playoff-style, or playoff hockey games for a month now. It’s been a good stretch of time that we’ve been fighting for our lives. Now we’ve just got to continue to do this.”"

During the 2015-16 season, the Colorado Avalanche dominated the Nashville Predators, winning four of their five contests. More recently, the Avs took Nashville to overtime on March 4, before ultimately losing on a Filip Forsberg goal. In that game Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Nieto, and Nikita Zadorov scored.

Next: Why the Avs Deserved the Playoffs

You never know. In any case, the first game of the playoff series is Thursday in Nashville. The leadership of the Avalanche think the team has a fighting chance.