KLEE: As NHL playoffs draw close, Avalanche fighting back

April 6, 2014 Updated: April 6, 2014 at 10:20 pm
photo - Paul Klee, the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. Picture taken  Aug. 14, 2013.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Paul Klee, the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. Picture taken Aug. 14, 2013. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

DENVER — The Avs are lovers, not fighters.

They love open ice, speed, Patrick's pep talks, Olympic medals, their bright future, comebacks, one-goal wins, getting I.D.'ed because they look so young. They love Varly, Varly, Varly.

They love giving fans the shirts off their back.

But do they love the punishment other teams are dishing out as the playoffs approach?

"We're ready for it. We've shown that throughout the season," winger/bodyguard Patrick Bordeleau said Sunday at Pepsi Center. "Hockey's a physical game. Sometimes when you play physical like I do, people get hurt. Then there will be retaliation."

As the NHL regular season wears down, the rest of the league seems to have a plan of combat against the swift Avs: Ready, set, hit.

Can't catch Nathan MacKinnon? Smack his rocket-booster skates to the ice. Want to rattle top goal-scorers Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and the injured Matt Duchene? Test their pain threshold. Can't beat the Avs? Beat 'em up.

Here's why Saturday's 4-0 beatdown of the Blues says more about the Avs than Sunday's 3-2 overtime shootout loss to the Penguins:

The Blues are a bunch of big, bad brutes.

"It's a team we have struggled with since the start of the year," coach Patrick Roy said.

When the Avs took a hefty lead and the Blues retaliated by knocking MacKinnon to the ice, the Avs fought back.

"I'm very impressed when teams try to play very physical with us," Roy said.

For emphasis, Roy doubled up: "I am very impressed."

Sunday marked the final home game of the regular season for the Avs. It doubled as Fan Appreciation Night. Two fortunate fans went home with Never Summer snowboards. The Avalanche Ice Girls presented skis to a season-ticket holder. After they earned the point, the Avs gave their sweaters to fans - the shirts off their back.

Justin Cox, an 18-year-old at Palmer High School, designed a goalie helmet for Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

"Justin did a really good job with the design," Giguere said.

The Avs did a really good job during a six-game winning streak. It's over now, but the streak said plenty about their willingness to stick up for their own.

On Saturday in St. Louis, the Blues took offense to Bordeleau. On a replay of the Fox Sports broadcast, a microphone caught Blues forward Steve Ott directing a potty mouth at Bordeleau: "You (expletive) loser, Patrick."

There wasn't a microphone on the visitors bench, so I don't know what Bordeleau said. We do know the 6-foot-6, 225-pound winger is the most imposing player on the Avs roster and prefers to throw his weight, and fists, around.

"I like a physical game," Bordeleau said.

Trailing 2-0 to the Penguins, the Avs raced back to tie it. That's what they do, what they seem to love, what has defined a dynamic season that has the Avs four points behind conference-leader St. Louis with four games to go.

Bordeleau scored the tying goal. He's not known for his goal-scoring as much as his penalty minutes. This is something I've always wondered about enforcers like him:

Does finishing a goal or finishing a fight get his adrenaline pumping at a faster rate?

"That's a question I ask myself a lot," Bordeleau told me. "I would say when I fight, I'm more excited about winning the fight than scoring goals. But when I score a goal, I'm more excited about scoring a goal."

And if you get both?

"If I get both in the same game," he said with grin that exposed a vacant front tooth, "I feel unbelievable."

If the Avs continue to love both — finishing checks and finishing goals — they will go far.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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