The regular-season finale at the Pepsi Center — an unofficial Western Conference playoff play-in game — never was supposed to be like this. The Avalanche and St. Louis Blues weren’t expected to be in this unique position Saturday night.
At the outset of the season, some questioned if Colorado would even reach the club-record-low 48 points it earned from the disaster that was last season. And the Blues, who reached the Western Conference quarterfinals a year ago as the Central Division’s No. 3 seed, seemed destined to easily make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year and compete for the Stanley Cup.
The Avs were supposed to stink and the Blues were supposed to rock.
But here we are: A young team on the rise and thankful for the opportunity. And a team somewhat embarrassed to have to work for the last wild-card spot on the road in its season finale.
The Avs-Blues winner-take-all matchup is the first of its kind since 2010, when the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New York Rangers in a historic 2-1 shootout that gave the Flyers the last Eastern Conference playoff spot and began their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I’m really proud of our guys to get to this spot,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said after Saturday’s morning skate. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this. You start in the offseason with your training program that everyone buys into. You work into training camp, developing some of our young guys to be impact for us. And the leadership, the core guys who have come back, and their approach of the whole entire season, sets them up for this moment. They’ve given me the confidence to believe that we’re going to win tonight, because of all that they’ve put in to.”
Asked if he would have relished this opportunity to play for a playoff spot in Game 82 at the start of the season, Bednar said: “Take it all day long, especially on home ice in front of our crowd, and knowing how we’ve played at home, I’d have signed that every day of the week.”
The Avs are the NHL’s youngest team. They weren’t supposed to make the playoffs. They weren’t supposed to come close. The Blues were expected to compete with Nashville, Chicago, Winnipeg and Minnesota for Central Division supremecy.
“To get in tonight would be a big step in the right direction,” Avs left wing and team captain Gabe Landeskog said. “We weren’t really sure we would be here this soon or not. But getting into the playoffs and getting that experience will just speed up the process of maturing as a group. That’s the best way to learn. So it’s going to be a fun one tonight.”
Both teams were limping into Saturday’s big game, having gone 1-3-1 in their last five games.
“Talking to our guys, they’re excited for tonight,” Bednar said. “This is a great opportunity for our team to play in front of our fans and I’m sure it’s going to be packed building.”