The Colorado Avalanche have their eyes on a big prize this spring. In order to reach their destination, winning tight, physical games and collecting victories on the road will be major assets.
On Sunday, the Avalanche checked a lot of boxes in their 3-2 win against the surging Minnesota Wild. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog scored as Colorado closed a five-game road trip with a 4-1 record.
“We have done a great job dialing up that playoff mentality, that desperate mentality,” defenseman Ian Cole told Pierre McGuire. “We are trying to catch up to St. Louis, we need points.”
Minnesota’s three-game winning streak came to an end as the Wild missed out on two crucial points in their quest to climb the Western Conference standings. Kevin Fiala scored once again, but Minnesota remains four points and three teams shy of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Youthful Avalanche wise beyond their years
A championship window can close as quickly as it opens.
For the Avalanche, there is a young nucleus in place, and the time to strike is quickly approaching. MacKinnon is playing at a Hart Trophy level, Cale Makar looks like he has played in the NHL for over a decade and Joe Sakic’s offseason maneuvers have helped turn a one-line team into a complete team.
Additions aside, one of the biggest signs that Colorado is ready to take that quantum leap has been its maturity.
[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday]
“We have done a great job learning as the season goes,” Cole continued. “We would lose some leads earlier this season. We are continuing to dial in that end of game situational play. We are maturing quickly. For a young team, that’s great to see. We have to keep playing.”
The Avalanche will need one of their goaltenders to force Jared Bednar’s hand and establish themselves as the starting goaltender.
Pavel Francouz made 34 stops in the win and improved to 13-4-2 in 19 starts. In the final period, Francouz’s stable play in net helped the Avalanche remain calm and protect a one-goal lead.
Philipp Grubauer has been the preferred goaltender and has received the lion’s share of the work this season, but Francouz is stating his case to seize control. A steady backup goaltender is important during the regular season, but in the playoffs it could lead to compromised decision-making when it matters most. Colorado is not hoping one goaltender’s play slips, instead they are yearning for one of those two netminders to separate themselves.
Ovechkin’s quest for 700:
Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.