Avs' learning curve is nothing new

  • Pierre LeBrun [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | April 25, 2014

DENVER -- All that was missing were the Stanley Cup rings plugging his ears, otherwise it was vintage Patrick Roy on the eve of a pivotal Game 5 for his Colorado Avalanche versus the hard-charging Minnesota Wild.

Friday's media availability became part history lesson, part hockey IQ, part deflection for his young team, but it was 100 percent Roy; his well-known passion for the game bursting through on a day in which people in this town are suddenly wondering whether the kids from Colorado are overwhelmed by the playoff stage.

"In Quebec, they had a bumpy road," Roy said in bringing up some franchise history when a young Nordiques team led by Joe Sakic was trying to find its way. In the 1993 postseason, the rising Nordiques won the first two games of their first-round series, but Roy's Canadiens won the next four.

"Remember in '93, we told you the story. They got beat by Montreal in six games. The following year they [the Nordiques] missed the playoffs!"

And yes, there's an exclamation point there, very much reflecting the tone in Roy's voice. Oh, but Patrick was just getting going on this day. He talked about how young teams need to take their lumps before developing into true contenders.

That doesn't mean anyone should think they're not going to bring it Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, Roy said.

"There's a process," Roy said. "And I think the road trip was good for us in some ways. Hey, we're not happy. But I think it's a little rude to say, 'Are we going to show up?' Because we've been showing up all year. And I think we deserve [more] respect for what we've been doing than this. I'm proud of my team. I'm extremely proud. And I'm not going to throw them under the bus, because I'm their partner. I've been with them all along and I trust our team."

Semyon Varlamov
Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI/Getty ImagesSemyon Varlamov, who has a 2.19 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in four playoff games, is the reason the Avalanche have a chance to win every night.

Roy then pointed out that what his team went through in losing two on the road after opening with a pair of home wins is no different than what St. Louis and Anaheim did.

In other words, the playoffs are hard, and his team is trying to figure it out. So back off, folks.

"What our guys have accomplished, it's outstanding, it's amazing," said the former superstar netminder. "I understand we want to fast track, I understand we want to be Stanley Cup contenders, but it's a learning process. ... It's tough to win the Stanley Cup."

In some ways, Roy was setting the stage in this market so that people realize this season has already been a huge success regardless of how this series ends.

"I'm positive, it's the way I've been all year. ... My glass is half-full, and I'd rather think that way," Roy said. "There are things we can do better. We're going to show our guys, we're going to take the time and we're going to be patient with this group. We need to learn. We are in that process. That's the beauty of our game. That's the beauty of the business of hockey. It would be too easy to go from 29th and [then] win the Stanley Cup [the next season].

"Unfortunately, it's a process. And we're going to follow the process. Can we skip some level of it? I hope so. But I'm very proud of what we've accomplished so far. Am I satisfied? The answer is no. But let's not forget, we're playing against a good team, a team that played really well in their building, their fans were outstanding. And all they did to us is what we did to them: we beat them twice here."

Roy was asked a more basic X's and O's question about the Avs' difficulties in transition in Game 4, and even that answer ended with a bang.

"What we're looking for more [of] is to generate more scoring chances," Roy said. "And certainly we'd like to have the puck more in their end. Yesterday, I think it was 14-8 puck possession in each end, we spent 14 minutes in our end and eight minutes in their end. That is clearly not enough. Normally it's 11 or 12 on each side, it's pretty balanced. It's clear they dominated us in that game. We're not to kid ourselves. But at the same time, there's little things we can do better, puck protection offensively, be better in our one on one battles ... we lost most of them in Minny. It's going to come to ... when you're talking about putting your [manhood] on the table, that's what you're talking about, winning your one on one battles. If you're better in those areas, obviously [you] help yourself."

Roy was merely pointing out the obvious: his players need to match the intensity the Wild brought in St. Paul, Minn.

"I think that first of all, Minny played with a type of urgency that we haven't seen all year," Roy said. "And ... I think we can't look at them. We have to move our feet, we have to skate and we have to be better.

"It's our turn to step up."

The message was received in an Avs dressing room Friday that had a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the deer-in-the-headlights look found Thursday night after a brutal performance in which the team was limited to 12 shots on net.

"We just didn't come out with the same urgency as they had," Avs forward Ryan O'Reilly said Friday. "Those last two games, they definitely deserved to win them. Without [Avs goalie Semyo] Varlamov, the scores would have been a lot different. It's the playoffs, it's a good lesson for us. We know we have to respond. Coming here at home, our last two games here have been outstanding, great energy in the building, it's a great chance to take momentum back in the series."

Two truths that the Avs are hanging their hat on in an attempt to turn this thing around:

1) Home teams in the Western Conference were a whopping 15-1 in these playoffs before Friday's games; obviously two of the next three games are in Denver.

2) Varlamov continues to be unreal in net for Colorado, very much the great equalizer for an Avs team getting dominated on puck possession.

On a day in which Varlamov was officially nominated for the Vezina Trophy, his presence in the Avs net remains the most tangible piece of evidence that Colorado can still win this series.

"He's been outstanding all year," Roy said. "Even in the playoffs, let's not kid ourselves, if we had a chance to win in Minny it's because of him."

Truth is, Varlamov probably will have to steal a game before this is all said and done.

And don't put it past him to do just that.

After all, his coach did it for the Habs in 1993 against those young and talented Nordiques.

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