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Woody Paige: Young Avalanche, powered by Nate MacKinnon, could ride win streak to playoffs

Woody Paige: Young Avalanche, powered by Nate MacKinnon, could ride win streak to playoffs
Posted at 12:19 PM, Jan 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-19 14:19:33-05

The Avs have morphed into The Roaring Twenties.

The Avalanche is fire on ice, the hottest team in the NHL.

The Avs haven’t lost a game in 2018, have won eight straight and have been stronger this season than the NBA’s Mavs and even lately when compared to the Cavs.

The Avs, who fell to h-e-double hockey sticks last year, have risen to hockey heaven this season. Welcome back.

Say it’s so, Joe.

People were trying to run Joe Sakic, the greatest hockey player in Avalanche history, out of Colorado when the Avalanche became the worst club in the NHL and were left out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year and the sixth time in seven seasons.

Yet, after putting together their best winning streak since 2006, the Avalanche is in the postseason mix again (currently in a wild-card position). Rather suddenly, the ex-Av-nots are relevant again, and even drawing full houses on occasion.

The Avs can reach nine triumphs in a row Saturday afternoon at The Can against the Rangers. They deserve a sellout at 1 p.m.

It’s a tough road ahead, though.

The Avalanche leave for a four-game, cross-countries trip to Toronto, Montreal, St. Louis, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg. After one game in Denver, the Avs are back out to St. Louis once more, then Charlotte. In fact, they will play 8 of 9, 9 of 11 and 11 of 14 away from the friendly confines.

The good news for the Avs will be that their 11 Canadian players will get to spend several days in their home country. The four Swedish players benefitted on a quick trip back to their homeland earlier in the season, but the four Russians, the Fin and the Czech won’t have that luxury.

The Avalanche is fifth in the Central Division with a 25-16-3 record. The Avs likely won’t challenge for their third Stanley Cup championship, but stranger things have occurred, and they are on the correct directional path after a dismal stretch for years because of the young talent on the roster and the possibilities for the future as a result of that monumental trade of center Matt Duchene in early November.

What happened to turn around the Avs?

But, first, it is interesting to note that before the season began, there was the evaluation of the Avalanche vs. the expansionist Las Vegas Golden Knights. The suggestion was that the Knights would end up with a better record than the Avs, who finished with only 48 points in 2016-17.

Well, the Avs have surpassed last season’s total before the All-Star game, but the Knights have become the best expansion team in the history of the four major professional leagues after an extremely successful start. Vegas has accumulated 63 points (30-11-3), most in the West Conference and second in the league overall.

It’s quite possible that the Knights and the Avs could meet in the first round of the playoffs.

And, just maybe, a real rivalry is brewing.  The days of the Red Wings and the Avalanche blood feud is long over.  And Arizona-Colorado, or Dallas-Denver never felt right, anyway.

The acquisition of veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury fueled the Knights.

But the Avalanche are being fired up by the Mac Attack.

Nathan MacKinnon has developed in a genuine superstar on the team of 20somethings. And he is something else.

In the Avs’ 5-3 victory on Thursday night, MacKinnon, The Halifax High Flyer, scored the first two goals and added an assist. He has scored goals in eight consecutive games, which matches the winning streak.

He has 22 goals and 57 points, second in the league to the 61 produced by the Lightning’s Nikita Lucherov.  And MacKinnon now could be pushing Lucherov for the Hart Trophy (MVP). KidMac has six game winners and should surpass 100 points for the first time in his career.

MacKinnon has been involved in just under 40 percent of the Avalanche goals.

And the Avalanche is well on the way to doubling last season’s point total, primarily because of Nate.

Second on the team in points is Mikko Rantanen with 44 (16 goals).

The Avalanche Advance is prominent given that the team, along with Columbus, is the youngest in the NHL, with the players’ ages averaging 24.9. All but two are in their 20s – thus the Roaring Twenties. Only veterans Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau are beyond 30.

A half-dozen Avs weren’t even born when the franchise moved to Denver from Quebec in 1995 – and won its first Stanley Cup that season.

All three goalies – Semyon Varlamov, Jonathan Bernier and Andrew Hammond – are 29.  Varlamov was in goal when the Avalanche, 9-1 since Christmas (top in the league), started the streak, but was sidelined with a groin injured. Bernier took over and is undefeated since at 6-0. The former Ducks goaltender was a grand free agent pickup on July 1. And Hammond has been brought up for depth until Varly returns.

Hammond was one of the seven pieces (four players, three high draft picks) obtained in the Duchene Deal.

The Avs could be really rolling and roaring by 2020.