All those tired of reading about how the Colorado Avalanche are going to get swept by the Nashville Predators, raise your hand. This will not be that column. Let’s throw all those negative Nellies articles right into the proverbial dumpster fire that is their true destiny. There is a reason teams actually play the games instead of relying on critics. The statistics don’t tell the whole story. The Avalanche are exactly the kind of team that can upset expectations. So for today, remember the immortal words of Han Solo and say “Never tell me the odds!” because it’s time to be renegade hockey people. That’s right folks, it’s rebel yell time. It’s time for the Avalanche to learn a few lessons from Underdog.
For the many who don’t remember, Underdog was actually a cartoon about a super hero dog who could fly, among other fun things. He was frequently overlooked – ‘cause he was a dog. He even had a cape. Yet he always managed to pull off some kind of ridiculous victory over the bad guys. His motto was “No need to fear – Underdog is here!”
The Avalanche need to embrace their inner Underdog because on paper – and based on history – the Nashville Predators present one heck of an intimidating opponent.
The bad news first. The Avalanche went 0-3-1 against the Predators and haven’t won a game against them since 2016. Nashville won the President’s Trophy from racking up 117 points this season. They boast some of the best defensive line combinations in the league. And their goaltender Pekka Rinne is no slouch. Oh yeah, and they managed to go all the way to the Stanley Cup finals last year where they took a powerful Pittsburgh Penguins team to six games before losing the series. That’s a pretty strong adversary. Ugh.
Underdog always managed to respond to his opponents, though, with “Speed of Lightning, Roar of Thunder!” and the Colorado Avalanche can do the same.
Because Underdog was ALWAYS the small, overlooked hero, his opponents frequently dismissed his abilities. When one reads the cascade of articles covering the greatness of the Nashville Predators, Colorado is barely an after thought let alone a viable contender. Don’t think the Avalanche players aren’t aware of that. And, hopefully, the Predators get swept up in the praise of their prowess and overlook their upcoming opponent in favor of perceived tougher rounds ahead. It’s happened before. Only 25% of teams who earned the President’s Trophy actually went on to win the Stanley Cup. Few things fire up true competitors – and everyone who has followed the team knows the fire runs deep in the Avalanche locker room – than being dismissed. Expect the Avalanche to come out with a chip on their shoulder.
Colorado also brings their own brand of ‘Speed of Lightning’. They are the youngest team in the NHL and arguably the fastest. And they know it. This is a good thing and it’s an advantage against a team like Nashville, if the players capitalize. The Avalanche can run most any team into the ice, assuming they have fresh enough legs and all of their conditioning holds. Also, they are young enough to step into the rebel mode, unafraid to take chances and unaware of what they don’t yet know.
One of the treasures of youth is a bubbling optimism that anything is possible. And it is. But as the years wear on, the weight of responsibility can cloud the youthful exuberance. Nashville isn’t particularly old for an NHL team but they are OLDER than Colorado. And the weight of everyone’s expectations for the team could become a burden. Since no one expects the Avalanche to win a game, let alone the series, so they are free to fly fast and loose. If they find a way to impose their quick style against the Predators, it’s could be a very interesting series.
Underdog also showed up with the ‘Roar of Thunder’. For the Avalanche, the top line should bring the scoring thunder the team needs in order to win. Nathan MacKinnon outscored Nashville’s leading scorer (Filip Forsberg) by 33 points. Will it be a challenge for them to rescue Polly Pure Heart (the series)? Sure, but what’s an adventure without a little challenge? Some secondary scoring could go a long way to making the road easier. Should the Sven Andrighetto-Tyson Jost-Alexander Kerfoot line fasten their capes find their scoring prowess, the Avalanche could roll multiple lines of thunder. An Avalanche of goals could really shut down Nashville’s defensemen as they would have to focus on defending their own net instead of adding to the scoring punch. Besides, cats don’t really like snow so maybe it will turn the Predators into scaredy cats. Hey, anything is possible.
Another thing to consider, in order to conquer any cartoon villain, the key is to discover and exploit his weakness. While the coaching staff has likely been burning the midnight oil to dissect the data and analyze the Nashville Death Star for weaknesses, there may be one not so obvious option to consider. Goaltending. Rinne has already played 59 games this year and he is 35 years old. After a long season last year and carrying the lion’s share of the netminding load this year, he could very well be one of the weak spots. If the Avalanche seize the chance to put a lot of shots on net, making Rinne work at defending the crease, good things could happen. A lot of good things could happen, like scoring things. And while Jonathn Bernier may not be high on some people’s lists in the net, let’s not forget he backstopped Colorado when they went on the 10 game win streak. Bernier played some remarkable games then and could very well be the Avalanche’s secret weapon.
Finally, and this is truly the clincher for Colorado, EVERYONE seems to be picking the Avalanche to lose, sometimes in humiliating fashion. Nothing is THAT certain in a playoff race. It makes one cringe. With the odds so heavily tilted against the Avalanche, doesn’t that seem off? How many times in sports has an expected blowout actually ended up as predicted? Not nearly as often as projected, that’s why it’s called gambling, people. With all these critics predicting a blow out, it’s hard to not wonder where’s the imminent cliff edge for everyone to run off.
While Underdog suffered the occasional embarrassing moment, he always responded by pushing back. Expect the Colorado Avalanche to come out with something to prove, and maybe they will earn some respect for their efforts. Because, really, to overcome all the horrors of last year, they have to be super heroes. Embrace your inner Underdog, Colorado Avalanche, and take down all those cats who want to rob you of your victory and plunder your net. There’s no need to fear people – Underdog lives right here in the Colorado Avalanche!