Colorado Avalanche should embrace underdog status for Game 2

A 6-7 final in the series opener between Colorado and Winnipeg surprised everyone. Despite the loss, Colorado can turn things around Tuesday with a road-win.
Colorado Avalanche v Winnipeg Jets - Game One
Colorado Avalanche v Winnipeg Jets - Game One / David Lipnowski/GettyImages

The Colorado Avalanche are not used to being underdogs in the playoffs, especially not in the first round. But after a disappointing skid in the last 10-game stretch of the regular season and a bonkers track meet in Game One, that's exactly where they find themselves. I say the Avalanche should embrace the unfamiliar role of the underdog the rest of the way.

There is no getting around the fact that Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev did not play well Sunday. A .696 save percentage on just 23 shots is really bad. The number as you might expect puts Georgie dead last among playoff net-minders. The stat is no doubt skewed by the fact that the Avalanche did not have backup Justus Annunen ready to play in Game One. In all likelihood, a start like that which saw four goals go in on the first ten shots gets a goalie the hook. When switching was not a real option the Avalanche kept #40 in the net.

With Annunen 'Still sick' per coach Jared Bednar, Georgie will be back in the net on Tuesday. Albeit this time Ivan Prosvetov suited up behind him and not the complete unknown of Arvid Holm. It stands to reason that Georgiev will have a short leash. Yesterday, before the team recalled Ivan, I was ready to get writing a piece called Who Is Arvid Holm?

It turns out that there is an interesting tidbit about Holm who is now back with the Colorado Eagles. The vast majority of his career was spent from 2021-23 as a goalie for the Manitoba Moose, the Jets AHL affiliate. Maybe the coaches weren't comfortable throwing Holm out there in the playoffs, but perhaps he did give them some good advanced scouting reports on personnel. Any edge you can get is welcome, especially as a post-season underdog.

The positive takeaways from the Avalanche performance were all offensive. The Avs hounded the normally rock-solid Connor Hellebuyck all game. Hellebuyck was good enough on Sunday but hardly himself. The probable Vezina winner allowed six goals on 46 shots. That save percentage is .870 and puts Helle at 13th of 17 among playoff goalies. He also posted the worst percentage among Game One winners. As I said last week, playoff trends are different and even the mighty can falter when the pressure is on.

Colorado has elite talent all over the ice and it would be foolish to count them out after one loss. When the Avalanche out-shoot opponents by a margin of 46-23 I like their chances regardless of what happens in their net.

All year long Avs faithful have been asking for depth scoring and Colorado looked more than ready to answer that demand. Miles Wood tallied his first goal in what felt like forever. Casey Mittelstadt got one in his first-ever playoff appearance. The Chu Chu Train got going. Lehky stayed hot. The All-Stars spread it around with Nate and Cale each scoring and Mikko notching two helpers. In almost any other circumstance that onslaught of offense gets you a win.

I understand feeling dejected after seeing a seven-burger on the scoreboard, believe me. But this series is far from over. If the Avalanche come out and put the heat on Hellebuyck like that in Game Two anything can happen.

Knowing you have to help a struggling goaltender is tough but can be clarifying too. Much like a team would starting an inexperienced net-minder in Annunen, Colorado must limit defensive break-downs and costly turnovers. They should know this already, it's baked-in basic hockey. The lapses are something that still happens in every game, for every team.

Get ready to be scrappy. The Avalanche showed they are ready for the amped-up physicality of the playoffs. In Game One they out-hit Winnipeg 55 to 46. Keep that mentality. Penalties were few and far between on Sunday. Each team only took three trips to the box, one of which was a wash that led to 4-on-4. The two actual PP chances for the Avs led to goals. Stay disciplined but be tough. A razor-thin advantage on special teams can easily be the difference between wins and losses.

The Avalanche are not the favorites this time around, but embracing the challenge can take some pressure off. Consider the example of the Avs Ball arena roommates the Denver Nuggets for a moment: last year the Nuggets were a one-seed who constantly told themselves they were doubted by everyone. Even when the truth to that sentiment was a bit dubious it seemingly worked to galvanize a team ready to win a championship.

Remember that every series is a story in itself, and each game is only a chapter. If you insist on giving up I can't stop you. But I do have a long memory and I will never forget another playoff game where the Avs (and arguably the best goalie all-time Patty Roy) gave up 7. And that was in a Game 7, against the hated Red Wings in 2002. I bring up this painful memory not to hurt you or me but as a harsh reality check. A Game One loss can never be that bad.

Also, it is proof that even the best goalies lay some real post-season stinkers. If the Avalanche can pull out a win in Game Two they will have drastically shifted the narrative. As the underdog a single road win can change everything.