Playing with no-quit tenacity, these are not the Avalanche that Matt Duchene bailed on – The Denver Post
It was as close to a religious experience as hockey can be.
Goals rained like manna from heaven during a 7-2 Avalanche playoff victory over Matt Duchene and the Nashville Pussycats. When not celebrating the lamp being lit, the congregation at Ball Arena enthusiastically sang “All the Small Things” by Blink-182 from the NHL hymnal and loudly told our old Dutch pal how much he stunk nearly every time he touched the puck.
“Leaving here was one of the toughest things I ever had to do,” Duchene said late Tuesday, after derisive chants from Colorado fans pounded his ears as relentlessly as 45 Avalanche shots pummeled the Nashville goal.
When the story of this Stanley Cup season for the Avs is written, let the record show this franchise’s quest for its first championship since 2001 began in earnest more than four years ago, when Duchene walked out the door and took the me-first attitude with him.
“Dutchy is a good person. He just needed a change of scenery,” said Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, before scoring the first and last goal in a Game 1 route in this best-of-seven series.
Champions don’t care who gets the credit, because everyone on the team is focused on getting a big ring.
“This isn’t about ego,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s about winning.”
There are many ways to analyze the trade of Duchene in the middle of a game way back in November 2017. But let’s cut to the quick: Dutchy had his feelings hurt because he was stuck on the dark side of MacKinnon’s rising stardom.
The slow build to championship contention for Colorado really began when general manager Joe Sakic changed the vibe in the dressing room by trading the team’s third overall pick in the 2009 draft, a center who grew up an Avalanche fan and was originally billed as the second coming of Super Joe himself.
“They’ve done a real good job of getting this thing to where it is now,” Duchene said.
These are not the Avs that Duchene danced on. It’s a deeper, tougher Colorado team than the group that has made a nasty recent habit of getting eliminated early in the playoffs. Or so Colorado captain Gabe Landeskog hopes.
“We’re not a one-line team, we’re a four-line team,” said Landeskog, who returned to the lineup for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in the middle of March.
Landy made his presence felt by digging pucks out of the corner and standing up to the goading Mathieu Olivier and other bullies wearing a Nashville sweater who tried to discombobulate the Avalanche.
“It’s expected. You watch them play. They’re a big, physical team. They got a lot of guys that it’s part of their DNA,” Bednar said. “You have to play physical. You have to be able to push back. You’ve got to be disciplined. We don’t need to get involved in all the scrums after the whistle.”
Colorado defanged the Predators with a five-goal barrage in the first period that sent goalie David Rittich to the Nashville bench in search of a crying towel, shortly after this best-of-seven series was a scant 15 minutes old.
“It was just some fluky goals,” Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said.
The Avs scored three times on their opening six shots; they scored on the power play; they scored short-handed. It was an avalanche of yummy goodness, or in a nod to the candy that made Music City famous, a GooGoo Cluster of goals.
But no score was sweeter than the treat cooked up by Cale Makar. He evoked Bobby Orr with stickwork that dumb-founded defenders, then fired a shot that gave Rittich a hockey hickey, the puck glancing off his neck before landing in the back of the cage.
Late in the evening, as is often the case in lopsided playoff games, things got chippy.
Duchene scored twice, including a meaningless goal in the third period while the crowd was roaring: “Duchene sucks!” The Pussycats huffed and puffed out their chests and tried to intimidate, bless their ever-loving hearts. Nashville center Ryan Johansen tried to get under the skin of Makar, while Olivier was as desperate and angry as a lonely guy at the end of the bar in a honkytonk on a rainy night.
But this is not the Colorado team Duchene danced on with a trade demand.
He went looking for an easy way out.
The Avalanche are itching for a fight, because the Cup is never won by a quitter.