"I wanted to make a good impression and make a statement that I'm close and ready to play at this level," Pickard said this week.
He probably didn't do either in his one preseason appearance, a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when he allowed four goals on 27 shots, but circumstances can change dramatically, and they certainly have for Pickard.
Varlamov has been recovering since Dec. 5 from his third groin injury, and Berra has been struggling to make saves, giving Pickard the kind of opportunity he never could have anticipated three months ago: the chance to play in the NHL on a regular basis.
Pickard, 22, is on his third recall this season from the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League and for now is the Avalanche's No. 1 goalie.
A second-round pick (No. 49) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Pickard has impressed Hall of Fame goalie and Colorado coach Patrick Roy with his competitiveness and ability to keep the Avalanche in games even during times of duress. He's faced an average of 35 shots in seven starts.
Pickard, who will start against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, Altitude, NHLN-US, SN360, TVA2) when the Avalanche open a three-game road trip, is tied with Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the League's fifth-best save percentage (.927).
Pickard is 4-5-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average and is 4-3-1 in his past eight games with a 2.11 GAA and .936 save percentage.
"It's nice that I put in the work this summer and I just need to keep it going," he said. "If you would have told me this summer I'd play in 10 games, I'd have taken it for sure. It's great, valuable experience for me playing all these games. I hope the opportunities keep coming and I just need to keep playing well."
Pickard has been one of the few bright spots for the Avalanche (10-13-7), which is last in the Central Division after finishing first last season.
"He's 22 years old and you don't see too many goalies step up and play the way he has," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "He's probably deserving of a few more wins. Awesome, can't say enough. When he first got called up, I don't think he was expecting too much and he's just taken it and run with it. He's played his heart out. What more can you ask for? He's shown the League that he can be a No. 1 goalie."
Pickard made his NHL debut Oct. 16 against the Ottawa Senators after Varlamov injured his groin in the morning skate and couldn't dress as the backup. Pickard was pressed into action when Berra sustained a neck injury 2:46 into the first period. Pickard stopped 23-of-27 shots in a 5-3 loss and made 33 saves two nights later in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
He was recalled for the second time Nov. 18 after Varlamov sustained another groin injury. Pickard helped the Avalanche to comeback wins Nov. 22 against the Carolina Hurricanes (his first NHL win) and Nov. 25 against the Arizona Coyotes after replacing Berra in the first period in each game. He got his first win as a starter Nov. 29 with 22 saves in a 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars.
The Avalanche returned Pickard to Lake Erie on Dec. 3 because he wouldn't get much playing time once Varlamov regained his health. But Varlamov was injured two days later against the Winnipeg Jets, prompting another recall.
"There's some guys going out there who are perfect technically and there's some guys that are fighters," Roy said. "The thing that I'm very impressed with is he's working extremely hard with (goalie coach) Francois Allaire and he has worked a lot on his technique, but the thing that he hasn't lost is his compete level. Every time he's in the play he always battles through. Even if he's out of position he's going to find a way to put the glove down or the stick. He's a great person. I'm always impressed when I talk to him. One-on-one he looks at you in the eye and he seems to be a very confident person."
Pickard was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, and moved to Winnipeg at age 7 when his father was transferred because of his job as an air traffic controller. His older brother, Chet Pickard, is also goalie and was a first-round pick (No. 18) of the Nashville Predators in the 2008 NHL Draft.
"When I first got to Winnipeg, somebody had to go in net and I kind of got thrown in and I had some success early on," Calvin Pickard said. "As a kid you get to be the goalie, and if you have a good game, everybody says, 'Great job.' I kind of liked that and I just stuck with it."
Pickard is 6-4-3 with Lake Erie this season with a 2.57 GAA and .920 save percentage.
"This is my third stint here and I've had a chance to play games regularly," he said. "The NHL schedule, there's a lot of games in a short period of time, so you just need to get the proper rest. I've played a lot of games at the Pepsi Center and it's an electric atmosphere. I love playing there and the fans are really supportive. The guys in the room treat me so well and it makes me so much more comfortable."
Pickard also is relishing the chance to play for Roy, a four-time Stanley Cup winner who won 551 regular-season games and 151 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's huge," Pickard said. "I mean, Patrick Roy having a lot of confidence in you makes me feel good and confident. I just want to take that out on the ice and play like that every night.