Officially eliminated from playoff contention last week, the Avalanche could go through the remaining games motivated solely by making it difficult for opposing squads to reach their postseason aspirations. Or, the team can focus on improving, developing and continuously competing with some of the most competitive squads in the Western Conference, putting forth an effort that could conquer any team at any time, regardless of the situation.
“I’m not looking at it as a spoiler role. I’m more focusing on us. How we want to play those last two games,” said Roy. “I just want to make sure that we focus on things that we want to be better at, and our game management is an example. We want to play for our fans.
“To me, it’s about us playing a good game. If we win, I guess we’re going to play a spoiler role, but I’d rather focus on our team and I’d rather focus on what we have to do than use that as motivation. Our motivation is what we’re going to do on the ice. Our motivation should be us getting better as a team. [Playing spoiler is] just short term.
“We want to beat the [Winnipeg] Jets, not because we want to spoil their playoff hopes, [but] because we want to play a good hockey game.”
This will be the case Thursday as the Avs take on the Jets in the second-to-last game of the 2014-15 campaign. Sure, Winnipeg needs to win—or the Los Angeles Kings to be defeated at the hands of the Calgary Flames—in order to secure a playoff berth, but the Avalanche would rather prove to itself and everyone else that it can skate with the heavy-hitting team.
“We’ve only got two games left, and obviously you want to go out with at least a little bit of a good taste in your mouth, on a winning note. We’ve got to still take it just the one game at a time, and tonight we’ve got Winnipeg,” center John Mitchell said. “They’re still fighting to keep themselves in a good position in the wild card there. They’ll be a hungry team, so it will be a good test for us.
“It will be important for us to win this game, and it can be kind of a stepping stone for next year. We can say ‘Hey, we can play with this team without a doubt.’ It will be important for us, definitely.”
This is the fifth and final time the two Central Division foes face off, and the Avs have only topped the Jets once this season. With that in mind, dictating play against the physical, potent opponent is priority No. 1 for Colorado.
“They’re a big, skilled team. They play physical. I think that’s been probably the biggest thing; some of the games, they’ve kind of outmuscled us a little bit,” defenseman Nick Holden said. “I think, going into tonight we’ve got to just focus on playing fast, playing our game and kind of getting on the body before they can.”
“They do have a big squad over there, but at the same time we’ve got some bigger guys here too,” said Mitchell. “So we’ve got to play to our strengths, use our speed as much as we can, possess the puck down low; just those little things and the little details of the game, and just managing it, obviously. Those will be the important things tonight.”
While Winnipeg puck stopper Ondrej Pavelec has been at the top of his game lately, pitching back-to-back shutout efforts against the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, Mitchell said that worrying about a hot goaltender would be foolhardy.
“I don’t think you really look into a goalie and how hot he is. You’ve got to worry about yourself and do those things, and when you get opportunities you’ve got to try and bury them as much as you can,” Mitchell said before offering some tips for success. “It’s just traffic, rebounds; I’d say a majority of goals in this league are scored off a rebound. In order to get a rebound, we’ve got to get shots. If we get pucks through, get bodies in front of the net, I think good things will happen.”
The Avs are playing with some confidence down the final stretch of the season, having just managed comeback victories over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday and the Anaheim Ducks last Friday—two of the top teams in the West. Building on this success has helped the Avalanche remain loose. The players can enjoy themselves when they’re winning, which helps them win more.
“We’ve all played hockey as kids growing up, and you love the game and you still want to go out there and win and try and score goals and do those things that made you love the game of hockey,” said Mitchell. “Winning is obviously a lot more fun than losing.”
“Winning is winning. We’re not happy to be where we are,” said Roy. “Missing the playoffs was not our objective, but at the same time if you can’t smile when you win, when are you going to smile? I think our guys still have fun and they’re still playing hard, and that’s what you want.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we will play hard every game,” he said. “It’s about us playing with pride. Your pride is probably the most important thing.”
BRIERE RETURNS TO LINEUP
Avalanche veteran forward Daniel Briere will return to the lineup tonight as the Avs take on the visiting Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center.
|Daniel Briere |
Out since March 25 after a shot caromed off his foot in a game against the Calgary Flames, Briere will fill the void left by Dennis Everberg, who injured his shoulder in Tuesday's contest against the Nashville Predators.
“Danny has been a valuable guy for us, especially in the room. Having a guy like that with his calm demeanor and his composure, it’s always good to have him in the lineup,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “With his game-breaking skills and the ability he has to step up in a game and be able to win a game, it’s good to have him back in the lineup.”
Brought in over the summer in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens that saw PA Parenteau head up to Canada, Briere has been an irreplaceable leader for the Avalanche, whether he’s been in the lineup or not.
“He brings leadership. He has such poise with the puck all the time out there. He’s been a great player in this league for such a long time,” center John Mitchell said. “For him to take that puck in the foot and have that deep bruise on his ankle, it’s been sad to see him not be able to play the last week or so. I think it’s important for him, and he certainly wants to play these games. He’s a delight to have in the room.”
Briere’s experience, his NHL wisdom learned through years spent playing among the league’s elite, is exactly what the Avs wanted when they acquired him.
“The reason why we got him is because of his leadership, and he did just that for us,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “He was a great teammate. I’m sure our guys have learned a lot from him, and that was the purpose of the trade.”
Briere has eight goals and four assists in 55 contests for the Avs, including three game-wining tallies. He’s expected to play alongside forwards Freddie Hamilton and Jordan Caron tonight against the Jets.