DENVER — We’re going to break some rules here. Nothing major; nobody’s going to journalism jail. But this column here — on the rip-roaring, fun-as-rollercoasters Colorado Avalanche — doesn’t fit in with the everything must be serious side of sports.
We’re not calling for anybody’s job.
We’re not tossing out potential trades.
We’re not even forecasting if the Avs are a playoff team, or if they are still too young for that next step and destined to hockey’s pit of misery, dilly, dilly.
What we are doing — what the Avs are doing, to be accurate — is bringing entertaining hockey back to Pepsi Center. They did it again in Monday’s matinee, thrilling a crowd of 16,090 with a 3-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks. Their neighbor on Chopper Circle, the Nuggets, would kill for the kind of crowd that ditched the cold outside for the cold inside to witness the Avs win their seventh straight game. The third level of Pepsi Center showed more bodies than empty chairbacks, a rare sight lately. Hey, Coloradans have good taste, and the Avs right now are the best show in town — by a longshot.
Seven. Straight. Wins. That’s fun by itself, more fun that ice donuts in a Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s been 12 years since the Avs won seven straight, mostly because they’ve had only one playoff team in the past seven years, and, well, it’s really tough to win seven straight games. They're 12-3-1 in their last 16.
“We’ve got to keep our finger on the ‘play’ button,” wunderkind center Nathan MacKinnon said.
I haven’t been over to Pepsi Center to cover the Avs enough. That’s my bad, but it’s for the same reason that many of you go skiing instead of hockey-ing: the Avs had been stinking up the joint. The historically bad Avs of 2016-17 were tough to watch, even as team captain Gabriel Landeskog positioned himself smack dab in front of the cameras to answer the hard questions after every defeat. Shoutout to “Landy” for his professionalism. Appreciate that.
Now? Now the buzz is coming back. Between the second and third periods — after MacKinnon skated through a defender’s pride with a ridiculous, toe-dragging, top-shelf wrister — the concession lines in the concourse were two deep at the most. Folks were already back in their seats, afraid to miss what sweet action could come next. The home team — not the mascot, Kiss Cam or Ice Girls — is the show, and that hasn’t been the case in recent seasons.
“Obviously we’re feeling really confident right now,” said goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 33 saves, including a critical stick save that stumped the Ducks on a point-blank shot in the second period.
From now until the end of time it will be fair to judge a Denver team on what it does away from Denver. So the jury’s still out on these Avs, whether their time has come to join the postseason scrum or if the NHL’s third-youngest roster is still a year away. February looks like one long road trip: nine of 14 games are on the road, including six in Canada and one in Buffalo, which might as well be in Canada. These Avs aren’t trying to fool anyone into thinking they've arrived. They’ve still got some provin’ to do.
“It’s kind of playoff games for us already,” forward Mikko Rantanen said.
There’s no momentum like hockey momentum, and it’s rubbing off up and down the roster. It’s rubbing off on the veterans, like goalie Bernier, who’s won six straight appearances for the first time in his 10-year career, and the young’uns, like Rantanen, a 21-year-old smooth operator paired perfectly on a line with Landeskog, the tough guy, and the flame-firing MacKinnon.
“I think we’re three different kinds of players,” Rantanen said. “That helps a lot."
And it’s rubbing off on a fanbase that knows how the Avs can overwhelm a city and state when they get it rolling. Well, they've got it rolling. The pressure and consternation that comes with playoff expectations can wait. For now, these guys are bringing entertainment back to the ice. No rules against that.