Any young hockey player dreaming of NHL stardom looks to the future with high hopes of having some success.
For skaters, fantasies include scoring the game-winning goal to take home the Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal. For goaltenders, it's about making the big save or a victory in the big game.
For those who make regular appearances in the top tier of the sport, consistent success is dreamed about less and expected more. Yet for a guy like Jeremy Smith, a player who didn't make his NHL debut until the age of 27, playing in the league is the first step.
Smith did that on Feb. 14, starting in his first career game at the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately, the match was a loss, as was his second on Thursday at the Nashville Predators.
Still chasing that first taste of National Hockey League victory, Smith finally got it in his third start, which was also his first at Pepsi Center.
Video: Avs goalie Jeremy Smith wins his first NHL game
"It feels pretty good," Smith said. "You're always thinking about your first NHL win. So yeah, it was great."
The Avs pulled out a 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, powered by three first-period markers that provided enough of a buffer for Smith to go to work with confidence.
"It was great. We came out flying, we scored three quick ones in the first and the guys played great the rest of the way. They pushed back, [and] we bent but we didn't break. The guys played well," the goaltender said. "We came out on fire, we got the momentum and we just rolled with it. So it was really good."
Colorado was getting 110 percent from everyone in the opening frame, including Smith, who had to make more than a few key saves to keep the Avs ahead.
"He was huge. He made a couple of really big stops," captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "I mean rebounds, the one on [Justin] Bailey in front of the net in the first period, and even a few big ones, really sweaty ones in the second period. He's really impressed me. He's given us a chance to win every time he's been the net. He looks really calm and composed and works really hard."
Video: Gabriel Landeskog on the win vs. the Sabres
"It's good to get in there and feel comfortable," Smith said. "That's a skilled team over there. They look for plays. They look for backdoors, but the guys did really well and yeah, I felt great."
With the fast start and strong play throughout, the Avalanche knew that getting the win for Smith was going to remain a huge motivating factor, even after Buffalo made it a 3-2 and 4-3 game in the middle period.
"We weren't going to let that puck get away from us, so I'm glad he got to make that final save and hold onto it. He's given us a chance to win every game he's been playing, and I'm glad to see him get the first one in front of a packed Pepsi Center. That's special," said Landeskog. "Maybe right now it's hard to put in perspective, but I think for him and for myself, to be a part of that, and for him to get that here on home ice, that's very special. I'm sure he's been waiting a long time to keep that puck."
Smith became the second-oldest netminder to make his debut in franchise history when he faced the Devils, clocking in at 27 years and 307 days old. His path to that first game featured 43 ,atches with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL and 265 contests in the American Hockey League with Milwaukee Admirals, Springfield Falcons, Providence Bruins, Iowa Wild and this season with the San Antonio Rampage, Colorado's minor-league affiliate.
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar discusses win vs. Sabres
"I think it feels good, I'm sure. It's a long time coming for him," head coach Jared Bednar said after the win. "He's worked hard and paid his dues in the minors and he's had multiple call-ups before in the past with our team or other teams. To be able to come in, really you look at the starts he's had for us, he's played pretty well. Tonight, I thought he was really good again. He earned that one tonight, for sure."
"It was nice to give him some goal support and give him that cushion to give him some confidence," added defenseman Erik Johnson. "When we needed a save, he made them. Just super exciting for him. Being in the minors for that long, you never know if the chance is going to come. So I'm really happy for him."
THE CONDOR IS BACK
Speaking of Erik Johnson, the Avalanche blueliner picked right up where he left off on Saturday night.
Coming back from a 36-game hiatus due to a broken leg, taking a contest or two to get up to speed again would have been understandable. Instead, Johnson took off.
The 28-year-old rear guard logged 17:35 of playing time, including 5:55 in the first period, broke up a play in the opening frame by sprawling to disrupt a 3-on-1 pass that would have been dangerous for the Sabres, and scooped up a secondary assist on Mikhail Grigorenko's tally, which gave Colorado a 2-0 lead at the time.
All in a night's work.
Video: Erik Johnson returns to the Avs lineup after injury
"I figured I'd be pretty rusty. The wind felt good. The legs felt good. Hands will get a little bit better as we go, but we won the game and we haven't been doing that a lot lately. So it's good to be a part of it," he said after the win. "I figured I'd be right in the 16-18 minute zone, and I'm just happy that I could come back and feel good and get back out there with the guys because sitting out is the worst thing. It's no fun.
"Everyone wants to be playing with their teammates. It's kind of about as I expected. I figured I'd be rusty. It's almost like coming off of a summer break and into the season. I missed three months. That's a long time. It will get better, for sure, but definite rust to work off."
Head coach Jared Bednar liked what he saw from the veteran.
"You can just see, he's an experienced guy, moves the puck well. He jumped up ice a couple times. He defended pretty hard," said Bednar. "I didn't see any glaring mistakes or puck decisions, so that's a good first game as far as I'm concerned. He's only going to get better from there, obviously. We'll start giving him a few more minutes as we communicate with him and see how he's feeling, but I thought he was pretty good. No signs of fatigue either at the end of the game, which is good."
Johnson saw 1:34 of ice time on the power play and 2:32 on the penalty kill, which speaks volumes about how his conditioning is after a lengthy recovery.
"It's awesome to come back in the lineup and have your first game be a win," Johnson said. "You kind of have to feel a little bit of stress because they've been through a kind of tough record since I've been out, and I wanted to make sure that I meant something to the team. It's good to start off with a win.
"It was really nice for [the fans] to see a win on a Saturday. It was a really great building, a really good crowd. Just really happy to be back in the lineup and get a win."
Avalanche center Carl Soderberg had an impressive stat come to an close on Saturday night. The 31-year-old Swede's 228-game ironman streak ended when he was named one of the club's healthy scratches, alongside defenseman Cody Goloubef.
Selected by the St. Louis Blues in the second round (49th overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Soderberg didn't make his NHL debut until April 20, 2013, when his Boston Bruins took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. He closed out that season with the Bruins, playing in the club's final six contests and two more in the playoffs. Soderberg skated in 73 matches with Boston the following season and another 82 for the club in the campaign after that.
Acquired by the Avalanche via trade on June 25, 2015, Soderberg has skated in 141 games with the Avs, including all 82 last year. He has 62 points (17 goals, 45 assists) during that span.
Jarome Iginla now owns the longest streak on the team, having put together a 224-game stretch without an absence. Iginla has dressed in all 82 contests in each of his two years with the Avalanche and in 11 seasons overall, the most 82-game campaigns in NHL history. The last time he missed a match was in 2013-14 with the Bruins.