Established by Colorado in the NHL bubble on Aug. 31, 2020.
It proved to be just in the nick of time for the Avs, who got their grump on and beat Dallas 6-3 in a win-or-go-home playoff game.
“We decided to show the best version of ourselves,” Avalanche center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said Monday.
If defense wins championship, then Colorado has zero shot to hoist the Stanley Cup. But hop on the burgundy-and-blue firewagon. And don’t forget to buckle your seat belt, because riding shotgun with Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon in this pedal-to-the-medal, no-D-allowed series is a wild ride. Not to mention crazy-good fun.
MacKinnon has scored 23 points in 13 games inside the NHL bubble. That’s nuts.
“We know anything can happen. It’s 2020,” said Avalanche goalie Michael Hutchinson.
Who? That’s Hutch, as Colorado teammates fondly call him. He made his first NHL playoff start at age 30. And won a game the Avs couldn’t afford to lose.
When it would’ve been easy for Colorado to hold a pity party and call it a season, players dug deep and threw caution to the wind, not to mention five scores in the back of the Dallas net during the first period alone.
“They came out guns ablazing,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.
Prior to the puck being dropped for Game 5, Bednar was asked to assess the mental state of his team, beaten up by multiple injuries to key players and beaten down by Dallas, which had scored 19 goals to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“It’s grumpy,” Bednar responded. “I feel like our team has a little snarl on.”
Let’s be honest. For much of this series, the Avs had played small and timid. Dare I say they seemed dwarfed on the ice by Dallas bullies Jamie Benn, Corey Parry and Jamie Oleksiak?
Colorado was way too Sleepy when Dallas scored goals in bunches, way too Bashful when driving to the net and occasionally Dopey when surrendering silly turnovers in its defensive end.
But what was the Avalanche’s biggest problem? Well, pardon me for going all hockey nerd on you and getting technical, but wasn’t it obvious?
Not enough Grumpy.
“We understood we hadn’t played an Avs game yet,” Bellemare said.
Is it just me, or does Dallas coach Rick Bowness always look as if he just swallowed a big spoonful of pickled beets? Well, can’t blame Bowness for being ticked on this final night of August. If Game 5 is where Big Mo decided to unceremoniously dump the Stars and make goo-goo eyes at the Avalanche, it will be in no small part because Bowness got too clever for his team’s own good.
With Colorado and Dallas on the ice for the second time within 24 hours, Bowness decided to give goalie Anton Khudobin a night of rest, starting Ben Bishop for the first time since Aug. 13.
Bishop can be a big old beast between the pipes, but before he had a chance to scrape the rust off, Colorado had scores by Bellemare, Andre Burakovsky, MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri within the opening 14 minutes of the first period.
Rewinding all those Avalanche goals in my mind, I smiled, with the Seven Dwarfs’ work song dancing in my head:
Dig, dig, dig is what we really like to do
It ain’t no trick to get rich quick
If you dig, dig, dig with a shovel or a pick
When the onslaught was finished, panicky eyes of Bishop looked to the Dallas bench, begging for mercy or at least a place to hide.
With it sounding as if Philipp Grubauer won’t play again this postseason and struggling backup Pavel Francouz being accurately described as “unfit to play,” Bednar had little choice except to hope Hutchinson wouldn’t wilt under the bright lights.
“It’s what you dream of as a kid,” Hutchinson said. He didn’t make anyone forget Patrick Roy. But he was solid enough to make 31 saves.
Give Bednar credit for replacing Gabe Landeskog on the top line with Burakovsky, which didn’t seem like a demotion for the captain so much as a search for more balanced scoring. “It makes us a deeper team,” Bednar explained.
Colorado must score in bunches, because the defense has been shaky when it’s not undisciplined. MacKinnon, the first NHL player to tally at least one point in 13 straight games to open the postseason since Mark Messier did the same way back in the free-wheeling 1980s, must keep up his furious scoring pace for the Avs.
“I know they want it. They’re working very hard for it … They don’t want to give up on it,” Bednar said.
Heigh- ho! Heigh- ho! It’s off to Game 6 we go. Can you dig it?
It now feels as if the shootout between Colorado and Dallas has only just begun. Gas up the firewagon. In this series, the first team to five goals wins. So keep firing. You can ask questions later, Avs.