Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Untouchables

Going into yesterday's game against San Jose I was apprehensive. The Avalanche had the opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Sharks, but in the back of my mind I had my doubts.

San Jose had controlled the previous game only to lose on what amounted to a lucky tip by Ryan O'Reilly, while Craig Anderson was superhuman in stopping all 51 shots he faced. Being an Avalanche fan it was easy to get into the mindset that all the team had to do was squeak out another one at home and the rest of the series would be gravy. That Anderson would be there come hell or high water, and all the boys needed to do was get another couple of bounces.

Credit goes to San Jose for not folding after Dan Boyle's gaffe in game three. The Sharks could have wilted and gone home with the series in peril, perhaps accepting the excuse that destiny wasn't on their side. Yet like the seasoned professionals they are, San Jose came out stout and determined. When Boyle scored in the opening minutes to absolve himself of all fault in the previous game, it seemed as though the rout was on. But that is when something changed, or for that matter didn't change.

The Avalanche held the fort.

Throughout this season every media pundit from coast to coast kept predicting the Avalanche's demise. Every expert had them pegged at last or next to last in the Western Conference, and that analysis made sense. The Avalanche were rebuilding. It was going to take time to return to glory. At one point I actually became frustrated when the team failed to underperform. I wanted them to stink so that they could land another lottery pick. Taylor Hall would have looked great in an Avalanche uniform.

Maybe parity can be credited for this season's rise of the Avalanche. The salary cap has spread talent around the league and there are no real powerhouses any more. Washington is strong and deep, and Pittsburgh and the Blackhawks are right there with them. But after that there are a number of teams which can, on any given night, upset any other team if the effort is there. Parity may enable a team to rebuild and even rise to the level of contender more quickly, but for a team to truly excel its personnel must work hard. There is something pure in that notion.

San Jose is a team full of stars, and should win. Yet it is because of their hard work that the Avalanche are even in this series, much less have the ability to take and hold a lead, and potentially win. This team, come victory or defeat, has managed to impress and amaze entirely because of their work ethic.

After the Sharks victory, the series now shifts back to San Jose tied 2-2. In the glory days of the Avalanche this was cause for concern. These days it should be cause for celebration. The series is back to even and the Avalanche have shown that they will not be defeated easily, with the pressure still resting squarely on the shoulders of the Sharks.

Avalanche fans should keep in mind that this is a team which is still growing and developing, and anything that happens in these playoffs is going to be a positive experience. There will be many more years of success, and we should enjoy the ride while it lasts. Should they beat the Sharks then they will have earned it. If they should fall their efforts will not go unrecognized.

For a team with nothing to lose, the Avalanche can do nothing but win.

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