Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar has two championships on his coaching resume after winning at both the ECHL and American Hockey League levels, and one of the things he's learned through those experiences is that it's not easy and the postseason never goes as planned.
In order to raise that cup at the end, every championship squad faces its own bout with adversity and has to find ways to overcome it to be successful.
"There are twists and turns to it, there's ups and downs," Bednar said following Wednesday's morning skate. "In order to win you need a little bit of luck, have different efforts and individual efforts from guys to get you wins. Certain plays will stick out in your head as difference-making plays in a game or in a series, again lots of ups and downs. The team that wins is the team that is mentally strong and can adapt and overcome things that are put in your path. A lot of it at this time of the year is mental, and you have to have that toughness and you have to have that belief that your team can do it."
Being mentally and emotionally strong is what Bednar has talked with his club about over the past few days as the Avalanche faces it first real adversity of the postseason. Colorado is down 2-0 in the second round against the division-rival Dallas Stars, with Game 3 of the best-of-seven series this evening at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
It's a crucial contest for the Avs to rebound from a tough loss in Game 2 on Monday. The Stars rallied from being down by two on the scoreboard with five straight goals to win 5-2.
"There's some positives in there, it was a step forward," Bednar said of his club's last contest. "Obviously we're going to need an exceptional effort from our guys here tonight. I think they're excited to play. I think we're looking forward to tonight's matchup."
Staying even-keel during the playoffs is vital, and the Avalanche of 2019-20 has a lot more postseason experience to rely on this year compared to where the team was two years ago in 2018 when it made is first run for the Stanley Cup after a three-year drought.
Video: Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Nieto before Game 3 vs DAL
Nineteen players have now skated in 20 or more playoff contests, with defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup champion Ian Cole having the most with 84. Forward Matt Nieto has played the fourth-most with 50 games under his belt and says staying in the present is one of the parts that he's taken from his previous playoff runs with the Avalanche and San Jose Sharks.
"Whether you're up or down, I don't think it changes much. You know, part of what makes the playoffs unique are the teams that win are the teams that just stay in the moment," Nieto said. "Unfortunately we're down in the series right now, but with that said, those first two games don't matter. All that matters is the game tonight. Our group has a high-belief system, and we're excited to go tonight. It's a big game for us, and we're going to come out flying."
In addition to climbing their way back into the series, the Avs are looking for ways to create more secondary scoring against the Stars. After all four lines contributed offensively in Round 1 versus the Arizona Coyotes, only the team's top combo of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have contributed goals against Dallas.
MacKinnon is tied for the series lead with five points (three goals and two assists), while Landeskog and Rantanen have the team's other two tallies against Dallas. Only defensemen Samuel Girard (two assists) and Cale Makar (one assist) and forward Nazem Kadri (one assist) have aalso picked up points through the first two games for the Avs.
"I'm not going to break it up all together, but you will see a few different combinations going in tonight's game depending on how things go," Bednar said of generating more offense from his lineup.
Video: Jared Bednar before Game 3 against Dallas
Colorado will also be without several of its veteran leaders tonight and maybe long term. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Erik Johnson are both out indefinitely following injuries sustained in Saturday's Game 1, and forward Matt Calvert is set to miss his third-straight outing as well.
Having key players out with injuries is nothing new for the Avs. They had 223 man-games lost during the regular season but still finished third in the league with 82 points and were just two points out of first place in the Western Conference before the campaign was paused.
"Injuries happen and believe me, I'll be the first one to say how big Calvy is for our group and how important he is, but at the end of the day we can't change that right now," said Landeskog, Colorado's captain. "We have to stay focused at the task at hand. It's the same thing with E.J. and Grubi and anybody else that has missed time over the course of the season or playoffs. They're all important cogs in this wheel, but for us we have to stay focused on the task at hand. It starts with Game 3 tonight, no doubt."
Colorado's mental fortitude will continue to be tested against a Dallas squad that has taken advantage of opportunities to flip the momentum throughout this Round 2 series. The Stars' defense late in games has been stifling at times, and the Avalanche needs to continue to trust in its own abilities to breakthrough.
Bednar and the players say they believe they can.
"Listen, we're ready to go. We're excited for this opportunity," said Landeskog. "We had a good day yesterday and a good skate this morning. We feel ready to go and feel confident, and it's one game. So we're looking forward to the challenge."