“Playing with house money.”
“Nothing to lose.”
Those were the most common phrases thrown around the Colorado Avalanche’s locker room on Monday.
It’s true that the 2009-10 Avalanche has certainly exceeded the expectations most outsiders had for them. Coming off a 69-point season and last-place finish in the Western Conference, experts and analysts universally predicted that fans in the Mile High City were in for another long season. They believed the Avs were too young and too inexperienced to be a factor.
Fast forward six months. The Avs, who continued to hear criticisms all year from the skeptics about how they simply couldn’t hang on and make the playoffs, have done just that.
But make no mistake, this Colorado squad won’t be hitting the ice in San Jose with a “just happy to be here” attitude.
“I don’t think we’re content with anything,” said forward Darcy Tucker, a veteran of 62 postseason contests. “All year long we’ve had a mentality of making the attitude of our team a certain way.
“We’re going into the playoffs with the same kind of mentality. We’ve had a lot of fun this year as a group. There were no expectations on us, and as a group we’ve exceeded what everyone has said so far. We’re in a good position here as a group .”
All season long, the Avalanche has defied the odds and raised eyebrows with their play. Now, the challenge will be to do the same thing, only with a lot more at stake.
“Playoffs is a totally different mindset than the regular season, obviously, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Tucker. “(San Jose) has a good team with some really good superstars that have played really well for them in the regular season. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
This year’s Avalanche squad has been known as a loose, tight-knit group. After wins, hoots and hollers echo down the halls of Pepsi Center in celebration. The players have fun before, during and after practice, and casual barbs fly back and forth across the locker room. At the same time, when the situation calls for it, the tone gets serious and business-like.
Striking a balance between those two personas may be the key to a successful postseason run.
“Part of me wants to be loose and have fun, but at the same time you don’t want to use it as an excuse,” said assistant captain Paul Stastny
. “Just because we made the playoffs doesn’t mean we’re content where we’re at. We believe in the players we have in here and we know we can do well.”
Sure, Colorado will absolutely be labeled as the underdog in its meeting with the top-seeded Sharks. But in a very competitive conference, teams simply don’t take one another for granted, especially this time of year.
“From top to bottom I think there’s so much parity, on any given night if you’re playing your best you can compete or even beat the best team,” said Stastny. “We know what kind of team we have and we have a lot of confidence. We’re going in there knowing we can win.”
Avalanche captain Adam Foote has been through enough postseason battles to know anything can happen when the puck drops Wednesday. Looking ahead to his 165th career postseason game on Wednesday, Foote references those same experts who picked the Avs to finish dead last in the Western Conference.
“Anything can happen in the West, that’s for sure. I think a lot of the experts would agree with that,” said Foote. “We don’t want to look ahead. You don’t do that in the playoffs anyway. But they’re No. 1 for a reason, and this is a tough matchup.”