The Colorado Avalanche has played 562 regular season games with Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon anchoring the franchise. Seven years as teammates in pursuit of the same goal — to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Is their long wait almost over?
MacKinnon, in a May interview, said: “This is the first year I really felt like we could win.”
“I feel the same way,” Landeskog told reporters this past week via a video conference call. “I came in a couple of years before Nate, so we’ve kind of been through the same lineups and the same teams. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a stronger lineup than this in our tenure here, so this is very exciting. We’re just scratching the surface on what we can do.
“Having said that, we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Landeskog — drafted No. 2 overall in 2011 — became the youngest player (19) in league history to become a permanent team captain in only his second NHL season. MacKinnon, the Avs’ 2013 first-overall pick, was named an MVP finalist in two of the past three seasons; including in 2019-20.
However, their more recent success was predicated by season after season of growing pains.
Colorado lost 31 games in 2014. A total of 39 in 2015. Then a whopping 56 in 2016.
“We still have that chip on our shoulder,” Landeskog said, “and we’re going into (the playoffs) to prove that we’re ready for this.”
The pre-pandemic Avalanche was well established as Stanley Cup frontrunners at 42-20-8 and sitting at second-place (92 points) in the Western Conference. But when the puck drops Aug. 2 for Colorado’s return to play against the St. Louis Blues, nearly five months will have passed since the Avs’ last game on March 11.
Landeskog returned to Pepsi Center in July for training camp 2.0 eager to discover how teammates used their quarantine time to stay sharp. He wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s not that rusty training camp look in the start of the season that you sometimes see,” Landeskog said. “Everybody is excited and realizes we have to crank it up as fast as we can and guys are excited. We still have kinks that we have to work out and a lot of details to really break down.”
Added MacKinnon: “From the drop of the puck from the first drill, we’re wanting to be high intensity but light and fun. We’re not getting ready for an 82-game season here. It’s going to be quick.”
Life in the Edmonton bubble will be unlike anything the Avalanche, or any NHL team, has ever experienced. The Avalanche team plane leaves Denver on Sunday. Colorado’s captain said maintaining a healthy roster, limiting distractions, and rejuvenating on-ice chemistry are the team’s top priorities.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a little trickier than usual,” Landeskog said. “Just knowing there are questions that pop up every day, and for the most part, you’re the guy to answer those. In a situation like this, you don’t really have all the answers because we don’t know what to expect. … Our group is awesome. We love hanging out with one another. This just feels like it’s just a big, long minor hockey tournament where you are kind of hanging out with the boys all the time.”
Do the Avalanche have a legitimate shot at Lord Stanley amid this wild finish to the season? The Las Vegas sportsbook Bovada lists Colorado with +700 odds (7/1) to win it all.
MacKinnon and Landeskog are less concerned with the opinions of outsiders. Their years-long mission is almost complete.
“Our record speaks for itself,” MacKinnon said. “We’re (two points) out of first in the West with a hurt team all season. I think when our team is healthy, we’ve lost one or two games all year. Just look at our lineup and compare it to other years. We’re so deep and have such amazing players.
“We have no weaknesses.”
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