It's hard to sum up a season in a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or even a single narrative. But when looking back at the 2015-16 campaign, missed opportunities might tell the story for the Colorado Avalanche.
There will be no playoffs this season for the Avs after they fell 4-3 to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena. The loss in the 80th game of the season eliminated the club from competing for the Stanley Cup.
"Today I am very disappointed," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy after the loss. "I'm sure we're going to have plenty of time to talk about it. That's not what we expect from this team. We expect more from this team.
"Yes, we had some bad luck toward the end, losing [Matt] Duchene and [Nathan] MacKinnon (to injuries) at the wrong time. I get it. It is such a fine line for any team to make the playoffs. You look at last year, Los Angeles missed the playoffs. A lot of good teams missed the playoffs."
Colorado made it interesting till the end. The team didn't give up on Tuesday's game, even when down 2-0 early, or the season when facing a tough five-point deficit for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Avalanche just couldn't capitalize.
Despite being down by two goals to Nashville in the first 10:19, Mikkel Boedker's tally late in the opening stanza gave the Avs a little life for the second period. The Avalanche had a strong middle frame as it outshot the Predators 13-8 and had more than double the home team's shot attempts (30-14).
"I thought in the second period we took it up another level," said forward Jarome Iginla. "Nashville came out great in the first. They are a good team. They play well at home. I thought we weathered it, and we found a way to get back into it."
Yet Colorado could only score once in the frame, as Iginla knocked in a rebound with 2:30 left before the intermission. The Avalanche had chances, including on a 4-on-1 rush with less than 10 minutes remaining, but they were unable to get a shot off. John Mitchell had an opportunity a minute later, but he couldn't get a backhand shot to go into an open net.
"We had a 4-on-1, and we had plenty of chances to take the lead in the second period," Roy said. "I'm very disappointed. Yeah, we're out of the playoffs, but also this is the story of our season, the third period."
The Avs have lost 13 games this season when leading or tied entering the third period. If the team could just get some of those contests to overtime and earn the extra point, things might be different in the standings.
Tuesday's final period began with back-and-forth chances and scoring before the Predators were able to lock it down defensively.
Preds forward Mike Fisher scored 36 seconds into the final stanza, but Nashville's lead was brief as Shawn Matthias responded for Colorado 1:22 later. However, even that tie didn't last long as Colin Smith scored the eventual game-winner at 4:17 of the period.
"We tied it 3-3, and all of a sudden we found a way again to lose a game," Roy said. "All we needed, and I was telling the guys, 'Let's bring this game to OT,' but unfortunately for us it's been the story of our season."
The Avs made a strong push after Roy pulled goaltender Semyon Varlamov for an extra attacker with 3:40 remaining. The club then got a power-play chance with 1:57 left, giving Colorado a 6-on-4 advantage for the remainder of the contest.
The Avalanche got decent looks, and its best might have come with 22.6 seconds left during a scramble in front of the crease. Colorado had bodies in front to try and knock a loose puck in, but it just couldn't squeak the rubber past Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.
"We have to learn to play those third periods. When the game is 2-2 and then 3-3, we have to find ways to be better in those situations," Roy said. "These are the things that we're going to have to talk after the season as a group for next season. We have to be better in the third periods, no doubt. Our decision-making needs to be a lot better then that."
Colorado and Nashville each entered the contest with 39 wins, but it was the Predators that were locked into the first wild-card spot in the West with 92 points, 10 more than the Avalanche. The difference was the extra point given for overtime and shootout losses, and Nashville had 10 more than Colorado.
"It's not easy to make the playoffs," Roy said. "Everybody wants to make the playoffs. In order to make the playoffs, you have to play a solid 82 [game] season and find ways to get those games into overtime. Before the game I was watching the stats, and we have the same number of wins as these guys. The difference is the overtime losses. They pushed a lot of games [to OT]. They had 10 more points than us just in overtime losses or shootout losses. This is something that we need to sit and look at."
For more than a week, the Minnesota Wild had the inside track for the second and final wild-card spot, but it gave Colorado every chance to comeback and take it. Minutes before the Avs game ended Tuesday night, the Wild fell 3-0 at home to the San Jose Sharks, stretching its losing streak to four games.
With the Wild struggling, the Avalanche had yet to be eliminated from contention, but the club couldn't help its own cause after posting a 1-5-0 mark in its previous six outings.
Colorado entered Tennessee's capital with the right frame of mind, even though it knew full well it probably had to win each of the final three games to make the playoffs.
"I think as the whole club, we're just focused on being positive," Iginla said of the team's mindset in preparing for the Predators. "We haven't given up, and all we can do is try and win this game."
With two more contests left on the schedule, the Avs will look to finish the year strong on Thursday in Dallas and Saturday at home against Anaheim before officially turning the page to prepare for the 2016-17 season.
Another long summer of training awaits the Avs, but the hope is that this year will make the team better in the long run and help it make the postseason for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
That is what everyone is there for.
"It bothers me a lot," Roy said of having to watch the postseason from afar. "I'm not here in Denver just to—I'm in Denver to win the Stanley Cup. I'm in Denver to see this team be a part of the playoffs."