DENVER — They can’t keep this up. Can they?
The Avs, I mean. Did Joe Sakic trade Matt Duchene in return for nine lives? Because it’s right about now — in the midst of a brutal stretch of 13 out of 16 games on the road — the Avs were supposed to face their reckoning. Somebody forgot to deliver the memo. Shhhh. Don’t tell the boys in burgundy.
“It doesn't matter how many guys are out if you play the game the right way,” goaltending revelation Jonathan Bernier said after stopping 38 shots as the Avs beat the Sharks 3-1 before 13,349 rowdies at Pepsi Center.
It wasn’t enough the Avs sent their second-best player packing to Ottawa and got better — a ton better. It wasn’t enough they lost their top goaltender, Semyon Varlamov — and won 10 straight games, two shy of the franchise record. Nope, they had to lose their best player, the electric Nathan MacKinnon, a real, live MVP candidate, for 2-4 weeks due to injury. And then — see, we’re not done yet — they had to play Tuesday without Mikko Rantanen, the second-leading scorer. The Avs have upper-body injuries, lower-body injuries, celestial body injuries, body shop injuries.
And they won again, because that’s what the Avs do at home. The most unlikely turnaround in the NHL bumped its home-ice record to 19-7-1, one season after it won 13 home games total. I spotted MacKinnon and Rantanen cruising through the tunnel wearing snazzy suits and smiles to match, no doubt because their teammates aren't sulking over the top line's sudden shakeup.
"Obviously losing Mikko and Nate is tough for our team," Tyson Jost said. "But that's part of hockey."
I know, I know. That’s a lot to soak in. But these Avs are a lot to soak in, no matter how long they stubbornly refuse to dip from the playoff picture and no matter how far this thing goes. Sometimes a team overcomes so much bad stuff that you just have to acknowledge the good stuff and enjoy it. The Avs, guided by even-keeled coach Jared Bednar, continue to bring the good stuff.
“We’ve done it time and time again with injuries,” Bednar said.
The good stuff this time was the ninth straight home win for the Avs. The Avs and Nuggets are 41-14-1 here, a jarring stat given the losing culture that had stunk up Pepsi Center in recent years. The good stuff was a couple of teenagers connecting on the second goal. Jost is 19 and Sam Girard is 19, and collectively they put Sharks goalie Martin Jones in a compromising position with a sweet two-man game that ended with a 2-0 Avs lead.
Now here comes the fine print. Sorry, but there is fine print. The Avs motored around with lucky horseshoes in their skates, getting outshot 39-20 by the Sharks. Bednar called it "a shooting gallery" the last time the Avs played the Sharks, and this was more of the same. And their playoff push is about to get very difficult, even more difficult than it has been. The rest of February shows only four more home games, and the rest of February might not include MacKinnon, the chief reason they’re in this spot in the first place.
“You’ve got to find a way without them,” Bednar said, allowing zero excuses.
Can the Avs keep this up? Here's an idea. Let's all forget to tell them they can't.