DENVER — There’s going to be luck involved, if this plays out like the Avalanche believes it will play out — in the NHL playoffs. Horseshoes, wishbones, own goals, all that. The Avs need every clover they can find.
The one place you can’t look to measure the Avs’ luck — well, you can look, but it won’t help — is the facial expression worn by Jared Bednar. The 46-year-old coach is Mr. Stoic. He carries the same look if the Avs are 22-56-4, like they were last season, or 35-24-6, like they are after Sunday’s good-luck, bad-luck show against the relentless Predators. The Avs lost in overtime, 4-3.
While I couldn’t begin to say for certain if Bednar is a good hockey coach or a bad hockey coach, I know for sure his even demeanor has been a stabilizer for the young Avalanche. That was true during the worst season a hockey team can put on the ice, when Bednar was hired late and into a dumpster fire. And it’s true now, as the Avs continue to flash a promising, entertaining brand of hockey and flirt with the postseason. The Avs are coming — even if it’s tough to tell from the coach’s monotone.
“I think we’re going to build off this homestand,” Bednar said afterward. “In all four games we played the right way.”
If ever there was an opportunity to let a sliver of emotion bubble over, Sunday was it: the Avs turned a crowd of 17,618 into a state of hysterics by flipping a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the third period. “The third is how we wanted to play,” said forward Mikko Rantanen, and it surely helped when the Predators knocked a puck into their own net. See, luck is bound to play a role here.
But the relentlessness of the Predators — the chief reason they rose into the Stanley Cup finals as a wild card a year ago — was on display on the tying goal and again in overtime. The top team in this Western Conference, too, Nashville leveled the score on a 6-on-5 and won it less than 2 minutes into overtime on a breakaway goal that fooled goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“Looked like they surprised Varly a little bit,” Bednar allowed.
Bednar would make a terrible emoji. His surprised face is the same as his happy face which is the same as his sad face. When Rantanen spanked in the goal that gave Colorado a 2-1 lead, the bench erupted. Bednar simply glanced at the replay, stonefaced and steadfast. His disposition doesn’t change, even when the boys in the room are straight-up bumming they lost a whale of a game in OT.
“It means a lot for our confidence,” Carl Soderberg said. “But we wanted to get the win.”
“It’s disappointing right now,” Rantanen said. “But in the end it’s going to be a huge point for us.”
“We needed to win that game. We had it in our hands,” Nikita Zadorov said.
I jumped the gun three weeks ago when I wrote these Avs should be enjoyed for what they are — an exciting club with a bright future — but to hold your horses, because the postseason is still a year away. Now the Avs are very much in the mix for the 8 seed and a pairing with the top-seeded Predators, only a single point behind the Kings and two behind the Ducks. (Those are the sweaters to root against.) My mistake was working off the sour emotion of a room that was down in the dumps after a chilly home loss to the Oilers.
Bednar? He's steadier than that. He’s been the anti-Patrick Roy as Colorado's coach. Whereas Roy shook down the partitions between the benches, Bednar might shake down the salt shaker, and that’s about it. His mood doesn’t waver, win or lose, and for one of the youngest teams in hockey, that’s been a good and necessary thing. When you’ve endured a stomach punch like his Avs did last season, the highs are not as high and the lows are not as low. They stole another point Sunday, against a Cup-worthy team, and might just steal a spot in these playoffs. Maybe then he will allow a slice of emotion to slip through.