DENVER — This was a win for Joe Sakic. This was a win for his Avalanche, too, and this was a win that screamed: Hey, guess what! An all-time player is light years ahead of schedule as an executive in Colorado's front office.
This win — Avs 5, Blues 2 — shoved the good guys into the playoffs when no one blessed with a brain could have predicted such an outlandish thing. From 48 points to 95 points and a series against the top-seeded Nashville Predators? Not to go all millennial on you, but here are three words from the preseason for that idea: LOL.
"It's exciting, you know?" star goal-scorer Nathan MacKinnon said late Saturday at Pepsi Center, a night 18,087 rowdies won't forget any time soon.
These star turns from the playing field to the front office don't always go as well as it seems like they should. Ask Sakic's Hall of Fame contemporary over at Dove Valley, John Elway. Folks who grew up sleeping in No. 7 and 19 jerseys and sweaters suddenly think their childhood heroes are incompetent knuckleheads. Tough biz, but the money's sweet.
The Avalanche advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2014 has Sakic’s fingerprints all over it. Seriously, the influence of the general manager's moves that were applauded or jeered are uncanny.
First goal, Sam Girard, who arrived here as part of Sakic’s signature move, the blockbuster Matt Duchene trade. While Duchene’s Ottawa Senators are playing out the string of a postseason-less season, Girard was rocketing a shot past St. Louis goalie Jake Allen. Did I mention Girard is 19 years old?
The Avs had to win this winner-take-all grudge match in regulation — overtime wouldn’t cut it — and Girard’s snipe turned Pepsi Center on its side. The decibel meter showed 106. My eardrums suggest that seems low.
The Duchene swap brought seven assets to the Avalanche — seven! — and kick-started a franchise revival that's just getting started. Truth is, it might be the GM's patience that paid off the biggest. Sakic bet on his instincts. He stood by first-time NHL coach Jared Bednar after Bednar supervised a roster of young’uns and crummy chemistry through a 48-point season that turned the Avalanche into a laughingstock of the league.
"We came in last by 20 points," MacKinnon pointed out with a chuckle.
Go back further, and it was Sakic and his merry band of talent evaluators who decided to select MacKinnon with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft — instead of prodigal defenseman Seth Jones, who played a position of need.
And you can ship the Hart Trophy to MacKinnon’s abode after his 39th goal gave the Avalanche a 3-1 lead on Saturday. When an empty-netter pushed them ahead 4-1, MacKinnon could be found at the bottom of a dogpile. One thousand pounds of sweaty hockey players never felt so good.
“We felt like with the young group that we had, making the playoffs was going to speed up the process,” team captain Gabriel Landeskog said.
Beating the top-seeded Predators in a best-of-seven series is a long shot.
But it’s no longer than the journey these long shots already have traveled.
“In my opinion it (Nashville) is probably the toughest building to play in,” said goalie Jonathan Bernier, another of the front office's master moves, who began this season as Semyon Varlamov's backup and closed it with 32 saves. Bednar said Varly will miss the Nashville series due to injury as well.
This win came at a time when hockey's heart hurt. There’s no way for me to comprehend what the people of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, are feeling today. It won’t bring back the 15 members on the junior hockey club bus killed in a horrific crash, but I went to bed Saturday night with a long prayer and the most heartfelt “Go Broncos” that someone could manage.
Bednar and Sakic are two of the unfortunate few who can grasp the pain of their brethren. For Bednar, Humboldt is where he grew up. He played for the Broncos. “That’s my hometown,” Bednar said. For Sakic, it was in 1986 that a bus carrying his Swift Current hockey team was involved in a crash. Four of his teammates were killed in the crash.
“You remember how hard it was, the pain,” Sakic told The Athletic.
This win doesn't compare. It was just hockey.
This win was signed, sealed and delivered by Joe Sakic.