The path to the Stanley Cup Playoffs has had many twists and turns for Michael Hutchinson but he is making the most of his opportunity after finally finding his way there.
"My career has been a long journey, been sent down and called up a bunch of times. There's always some moments when you get sent down where you never think you are going to play another NHL game, but those moments you kind of put them behind and just enjoy playing hockey and have fun with it," Hutchinson said. "For myself it's just keep working hard and try to be a good teammate, and it's kind of interesting how hockey works out and how things change sometimes."
The goaltender made his NHL playoff debut on Aug. 30 in Game 4 of the Colorado Avalanche's second-round series against the Dallas Stars and played 9:21 in the outing in a relief appearance.
That was his first game action since he won in his debut with Colorado on March 2 at the Detroit Red Wing--a 2-1 victory on his 30th birthday--and only his second time playing in a contest with the Avs after the team acquired him in a trade deadline deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 24.
Since then, he has helped the Avalanche earn back-to-back victories in Games 5-6 to extend the club's season and become the seventh goaltender in NHL playoff history to earn his first two career postseason wins in contests when facing elimination.
He joins Jacques Plante (1952), Robbie Moore (1978), Frank Pietrangelo (1990), Wade Flaherty (1994), Manny Fernandez (2002) and Michael Leighton (2009).
Video: COL@DAL, Gm6: Hutchinson sprawls to rob Faksa
"It's so comforting to have a guy in the net that we count on, we count on all three goalies that've played," said NHL postseason scoring leader Nathan MacKinnon following Game 6. "But, when he is making routine saves, he's making tough saves--we gave up some good looks tonight, as good as we were--we definitely gave up some looks that he came up big on. He calms things down for us. He allows us to make mistakes and covers our [butts], which is very comforting, galvanizes the team for sure. We feel very confident when our goalies playing like that and really happy for Hutchy."
The Barrie, Ontario, native's trek to the NHL began when he was selected by the Boston Bruins in the third round of the 2008 NHL Draft. He signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Jets in July 2013 and then made his NHL debut with the Jets on April 7, 2014, stopping 16-of-17 shots in a 1-0 loss. In his second NHL start three days later, Hutchinson allowed one goal on 33 shots in a 2-1 victory against the same Bruins that drafted him.
The following season, he started 36 games as a rookie for Winnipeg and went 21-10-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .914 save percentage to help the team reach the postseason, but he served as the backup netminder in the Jets' first-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
He spent a few more campaigns in Winnipeg and then signed with the Florida Panthers as a free agent in July 2018. Florida traded him to Toronto on Dec. 29, 2018 and he once again filled the role as the backup goalie in the Maple Leafs' playoff run.
Video: Michael Hutchinson and Cale Makar after Game 6
"Not just for Hutch, but for all the guys that don't have an easy path, but they want it and they stick to it and they buy into their dreams and they invest in themselves to just continue to try and battle to play at the highest level they possibly can and eventually get a chance, I think there's a value in those players," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. "They appreciate what they have and playing in the best league in the world and playing this game for a living. I think that you have a healthy respect for what it takes to get here and when you get here you don't want to let it go, and those guys tend to give it their all every single night.
"There's ups and downs in most guys' careers, and they have to battle in order to stay. It's not an easy league to get to, and it's certainly not an easy league to stay in. If you respect the game and you give it the effort it deserves, I think you come to appreciate it and that's what we see in Hutch. I couldn't be more happy for this guy, and he's just a great person, great teammate, makes it easy to cheer for him."
In total, Hutchinson has played 127 NHL games with four different franchises and has gone up and down between the NHL and American Hockey League for much of his career. This year's postseason run with the Avalanche is the first chance that he has had to contribute on the iec for his team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think a lot of hockey is just being in the right place at the right time and being able to take advantage of certain opportunities that come up," Hutchinson said. "This whole entire situation with the bubble and everything going on is so absurd and surreal at the same time, it's just one of those things that it happens. For myself, I've been able to play quite a few NHL games, I've been able to practice with teams for quite a few years, so I've always felt that my game is in a place where if I got an opportunity, I could be successful. Now with the guys in front of me, a lot of winning these last two games is on them. We battle so hard, we block shots, we pick up sticks, so as a goalie when you have a team that works that hard in front of you it definitely makes my job a lot easier."
Although he entered the Edmonton hub city as the third netminder on the Avalanche's depth chart, Hutchinson dressed as the backup keeper for the first time this postseason in Game 2 of the series against Dallas on Aug. 24. After his NHL playoff debut in Game 4, he has started the last two outings with Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer both being unfit to play.
"It's hard not to understand what's going on, especially in the bubble," Hutchinson said. "There's not much besides hockey, but for myself I am just happy to have this opportunity and I am just enjoying playing and having fun out there."
It is unknown how many more games Hutchinson will play in the 2020 postseason, but with his work ethic and optimistic attitude it is certain he will do everything he can to help the Avalanche reach its goals.
"We are yet to play our best and I felt like he could come in and get us a win, that's what makes him such a cool individual," Bednar said on Wednesday night of giving Hutchinson a start in the playoffs. "It wasn't a big deal for him. I know deep inside that he was real excited I'm sure and that he'd been waiting for an opportunity and his patience paid off, so has his hard work. He's put us in a position now where we can win one game and advance. I'm rooting for this guy.
"He's an easy guy to cheer for. I mean this guy has just been doing all the right things since he joined our club. For him to be able to step in and do what he's done for us the last couple games is nothing short of amazing. He deserves all the credit because he's kept himself ready, and it's exciting time."