LAS VEGAS – As the Avalanche team he built again crumbled in the NHL playoffs under the rubble of unfulfilled potential, antsy general manager Joe Sakic had trouble staying in his seat at T-Mobile Arena.
Colorado crapped out in Vegas, losing 6-3 to the Golden Knights here late Thursday.
Hey, Super Joe. We all feel your pain. So pardon me if this is too soon to ask:
How much longer are you going to just stand there as your oh-so-pretty Avs repeatedly fail in their quest for the Stanley Cup because they’re not gritty enough?
“You’re not going to be satisfied, you’re not going to be happy until you win the final game of the season. It sucks. It stinks,” Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog said.
So let’s allow 24 hours of mourning for a team just beautiful enough to break your heart.
Then Sakic needs to look in the mirror and admit major changes need to be made before this group can win a championship.
Nathan MacKinnon, who will turn 26 years old before the Avs next take the ice, is no kid anymore.
“I’m going into my ninth year and I haven’t won (bleep),” MacKinnon said.
It would be a crying shame if the Avs waste one more season before giving MacKinnon a real chance to win a ring. At this point in his career, MacKinnon’s frustration brings back hints of deja vu for those of us old enough to remember John Elway’s early years as the Broncos quarterback.
I asked MacKinnon what Colorado needs to do in order to get over the hump.
“I can’t tell you right now,” said MacKinnon, too disgusted to think straight, much less offer constructive criticism.
But isn’t it obvious what Sakic needs to do?
It starts with the dismissal of coach Jared Bednar. When he needed to make strategic adjustments, Bednar instead tried to shame his players into fighting for every inch of ice. The problem? These Avs are lovers, not fighters. They are pageant material, not championship material.
After three consecutive exits during the second round of the playoffs, it’s time to admit Bednar doesn’t know how to manage a crisis when inevitable playoff adversity sounds the alarm.
Goalie Philipp Grubauer deserves a polite golf clap as a Vezina Trophy finalist. But instead of saving the Avalanche’s bacon in Game 6, he threw teammates into the fire. Allowing five goals on 22 shots (not counting the final empty-netter) in an elimination game? That’s simply unacceptable.
After taking a 2-0 lead in this series, Colorado got swept away in no small measure because goallie Marc-Andre Fleury has the right stuff to win a championship. The Avs haven’t been blessed with that goalie since Patrick Roy left the building.
The Golden Knights scored their first goal on a floater from the blue line by defenseman Nick Holden. It was a puck Grubauer could’ve easily stopped if his concentration hadn’t momentarily left the building to take a selfie with a showgirl on the Vegas strip.
The late, great Pierre Lacroix served as Sakic’s mentor. Father Pete could be ruthless in his evaluation of players, coaches and media alike. But Lacroix never, ever accepted excuses for defeat.
And these sweet-skating Avs would win the Ice Capades, but they haven’t learned the most basic rule of playoff hockey: Backcheck. Forecheck. Paycheck.
Vegas took a 4-3 lead it never relinquished in the final minute of the second period, when Avalanche veteran Patrik Nemeth was unable to clear the puck from his defensive zone and Alex Pietrangelo scored a hard-working, no-nonsense goal.
Sakic must acknowledge these Avs are too much dainty Sam Girard and not enough Alex Tuch, a big, meat-grinder of a Vegas forward that charges hard to the blue paint and will blow up MacKinnon against the end boards without stopping to ask mother-may-I permission.
The Avs are pretty, not gritty. Center Nazem Kadri got himself banished from the playoffs with a suspension. That’s not gritty, it’s stupid.
“We were best team in the league,” MacKinnon insisted, “but we couldn’t get it together.”
With all due respect to Mr. MacKinnon, I beg to differ as loudly as a Ryan Reaves hip check. Before Colorado can make a serious run at the Cup, the delusional thinking espoused by MacKinnon must be tossed in the dumpster.
The Avs are teddy bears that glide through the regular season. But the playoffs are a whole different animal, a grizzly bear that Colorado must learn to wrestle.
“Nobody wants to play a good regular season and lose in the second round,” Avs winger Mikko Rantanen said.
As the final seconds of the third period ticked away, Sakic stood grimly in a box reserved for the visiting general manager and watched the Avalanche’s window of opportunity get one year smaller. With a recording of Elvis Presley singing “Viva, Las Vegas” blaring over the arena loudspeakers and pounding his ears, Super Joe turned and walked away, like so many tourists to the Nevada desert, wondering how he could go home with pockets empty of anything resembling satisfaction from the trip.
The first step to fixing the problem is acknowledging the problem.
This Colorado team that Joe built is not built to win a championship.
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