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Stastny thriving with MacKinnon, Landeskog

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon is the teenage wunderkind with blazing speed. Gabriel Landeskog is the young captain, power forward and local heartthrob with the flowing locks.

Paul Stastny? He's the unsung member of the Colorado Avalanche's high-scoring line, sort of the glue that holds it all together.

Paul Stastny
Center - COL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7
SOG: 4 | +/-: 2
At 28 and in his eighth NHL season, Stastny has grown into a role as elder statesman on one of the youngest teams in the League, though he's often underappreciated by some who have expected more from a player with a $6.6 million salary.

But Stastny, whose father Peter forged a Hall of Fame career over 16 NHL seasons, has been a solid two-way player in his own right and getting the chance to shine in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four years.

Stastny amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) in the first two games of a Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild, and the Avalanche will take a 2-0 lead into Game 3 of the best-of-7 series Monday at the Xcel Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, RDS, TSN, FS-N, ALT).

"It’s great," Stastny said Sunday of skating alongside Landeskog and MacKinnon. "We've done a good job of clicking. Whether it's 20 or 30 games we've been playing together, every game we've been getting better and better. It's not going to stop, I think. You're building that chemistry and it takes a while, but every game we do something. We get excited knowing it's only going to get better and we're going to keep clicking. Today we're already focused on Game 3 knowing we're going into a hostile environment, and it's going to be a tough game."

A quiet team leader, Stastny wears an 'A' on his jersey as an assistant captain and has earned the respect of coach Patrick Roy and his teammates.

"He's been a leader from the get-go," Roy said. "The guys look up to him, they have a lot of respect for Paulie. He has been a great leader for us from the start."

Stastny is coming off one of his best seasons with 25 goals and 35 assists in 71 games. He won 54.1 percent of his faceoffs, was dependable in his own end and posted a plus-9 plus/minus rating.

But the statistics that meant more to him after three years without a playoff appearance were the 52 wins and 112 points the Avalanche earned in the regular season.

"You can have as much fun as you want to, but it's all about winning," Statsny said. "You don't play this game just to go out there and put up points. You play this game to win. It's a team game and you want to win the Stanley Cup. That's all it's about, that's what all the hard work is for during the summer.

"As you get older, you realize it's harder and harder. Nothing comes easy. When you get a chance, you have to take advantage of it. When I was younger, you heard that from the older guys and you kind of took it with a grain of salt. Now as you get older and [success] doesn't happen as often, you come to realize how important it is.

"When I was younger I'd look at certain guys, whether it was [Andrew] Brunette or [Joe] Sakic or [Milan] Hejduk, different kind of guys. I wouldn't say much, I would just look to what they did. I'm one of the medium-aged guys or one of the older guys now, but you always have to carry yourself the right way. You don't know who's watching and you never know what guys on the team are looking up to you, so I always try to send a positive message and be even-keeled and stick to what I've been doing my whole career."

Now that the Avalanche are back in the playoffs, Stastny is making the most of it and playing an integral part in the team's success.

Stastny is the first Avalanche player to register three or more points in back-to-back playoff games since Theo Fleury did it in Games 5 and 6 against the San Jose Sharks in 1999. He and MacKinnon, who also had a goal and three assists in Colorado's 4-2 win Saturday, are the first Avalanche teammates to collect four points in the same playoff game.

Stastny was the Game 1 hero, scoring the tying goal with 13.4 seconds left in regulation and at 7:27 of overtime in a 5-4 win.

"It's a great place, I'm having fun," said Stastny, who has six goals and nine assists in 17 career playoff games.

There are no guarantees Stastny will remain with the Avalanche beyond this season because he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1. He played two years at the University of Denver, where he helped win a national championship as a freshman in 2005, and has repeated his desire to stay.

A second-round pick (No. 44) in the 2005 NHL Draft, Stastny ranks eighth on the franchise's all-time lists for goals (160), assists (298) and points (458) in 538 career regular-season games.

Whether he will add to those totals in Colorado remains to be seen.The Avalanche could have moved Stastny at the NHL Trade Deadline, but elected to keep him and take their chances on signing him to a new contract. They also didn't want to disrupt team chemistry.

Roy said that he and Sakic, the Avalanche's executive vice president of hockey operations, never had any desire to move Stastny.

"We said all along we didn't want rental players, and the only one we would keep is Paul because we believe that Paul wants to stay as an Avalanche and we believe that there's a chance for him to re-sign with us," Roy said. "Now, how it's going to happen, it will be up to Joe and his agent to discuss. I think Paul has the Avs in his heart and I think he loves to be in this town, he loves the fans."

Stastny said he "hopes" to re-sign with Colorado, but has put that situation on the back burner for now.

"I'm here to win," he said. "I don't really care what's going on with that other stuff. It's all about this team and what we've been doing and what we've done all year and what we can keep doing. That's all I'm focusing on right now."

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