One’s an outlier, two a trend. Three straight second-round postseason exits later, the Avalanche have a reputation.
Three straight talented Colorado teams fizzled out at the same point. Against the Sharks in 2019, the Avalanche wanted home ice in Game 7. The next season in the bubble, injuries to key players took a toll. They didn’t make it past Game 6 most recently against the opportunistic Vegas Golden Knights.
“You’re up 2-0. We didn’t play well for a stretch there,” general manager Joe Sakic said. “I think that lesson is you’ve got to deal with adversity a little bit better.
“To get over the hump, everybody’s got to take a step up in every round. There's another emotional level you’ve got to get to. And you can only do that by going through it. I’m hoping that the lessons from last year, we’re going to learn from those.”
Getting "over the hump” is a popular refrain. The Avalanche can’t manage it without putting together a strong regular season first. But the 2021-22 team — the favorites to win it all according to DraftKings and MGM, among others — will be judged by playoff progress. The process begins again Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
They had, and retain, one of the most productive lines in the NHL. Two members of it — Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen — were in the top 10 vote-getters for the Hart Trophy awarded to the league’s MVP. The defense allowed the fewest shots per game.
Yet last season’s Avalanche became the latest in a rarely interrupted trend of regular-season champions who failed to peak at the right time.
“It's a long haul. Just because you’re a good team or favored or had a good regular season doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to go and earn it at the right time,” coach Jared Bednar said. “I thought we played some real good hockey last year. Consistency was way better. But we didn’t perform at the right time.
"We didn’t put all the pieces together for that one week."
There are more puzzling active reputations. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance, have qualified for the postseason each of the past five seasons but still haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.
At the end of the day, it might all feel the same, according to Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog.
“It doesn’t matter if you lose in the first round, second round, third round or the Stanley Cup Finals, if you don’t win that last game of the season, you’re going to be pissed off and you’re going to be motivated to come back better,” Landeskog said.