Colorado Avalanche: The Night Is Darkest Just Before the Dawn

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Colorado Avalanche: The Night Is Darkest Just Before the Dawn
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

...and I promise you, the dawn is coming.

Last night was a tough one for Colorado Avalanche Nation.  In a certain must-win game, the Avalanche could not get it done, as they fell 5-2 to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.

Of course, had the Avs pulled off the victory, it would have all been for naught, as the San Jose Sharks won a wild one against the Los Angeles Kings in a shootout.  As soon as that game went into overtime, the Avs fate would have been sealed.

Being eliminated from playoff contention by Columbus certainly stings.  The Jackets have a league-low 63 points and are pretty much guaranteed the No. 1 or No. 2 overall draft pick this summer.

However, they are actually 6-4 over their last 10 games and they have defeated teams like the Central Divsion-leading St. Louis Blues, the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, and the Detroit Red Wings, so it's not like the Jackets have been playing terrible hockey of late.

The Avs came out strong from the start of the game and got several scoring chances on Columbus, but goalie Steve Mason was up to the task. 

Boston College alum Cam Atkinson opened up the scoring, as he beat defensemen Jan Hejda, Ryan O'Byrne and goalie Semyon Varlamov.  Atkinson was not done, as he finished the game with his first NHL hat-trick.

Columbus captain Rick Nash added another two goals in what may turn out to be the penultimate or even last game of his Jackets career.  He left the game in the third period and is rumored to be on the trade block prior to the draft.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

While this is certainly not the way the Avs had hoped their season would end, there is a very, very bright future in store for this young team.

Gabriel Landeskog is the rookie of the year and can further his already impeccable case for the Calder with another strong effort tomorrow against Nashville in the Avs' swan song game of the 2011-12 season.  After a scoring change, Landy was credited with an assist on Paul Stastny's goal last night. 

Unfortunately, the scoring change stripped rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie of his first-ever NHL point.  There will be plenty more opportunities for him, however.

Matt Duchene played hurt the entire second half of the season.  The knee he injured back in December and the ankle he injured in March never had time to heal, and it certainly affected Duchene's production.  At just 21 years of age, Duchene will be back and better than ever in the fall.

Newcomer Steve Downie was also playing on a bad shoulder for the last several weeks, which saw his production decline from the fantastic output he initially had.

Semyon Varlamov, Paul Stastny, Jay McClement and Erik Johnson all saw their production and confidence increase as the season went along.  These are very good signs indeed for the Avs, especially in the cases of Varly and EJ.

Last summer, Greg Sherman, Joe Sakic and company addressed the Avs' goaltending and defense by adding Varly, Giguere, O'Brien and Hejda and drafting Duncan Siemens.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

This summer, the focus will be on offense.  It will be very interesting to see what moves are made to improve this team.

Without question, the Avs will look different come opening night in October.  Many players will be free agents in July.  Duchene, O'Reilly, and Johnson all should and will be paid.

Of course, after being eliminated, fans were quickly following the "fire Sacco" trend, but how much of the Avs' shortcomings are actually his fault?  It's certainly not his fault that the Avs have the youngest team in the league and the lowest payroll, but the question remains: is he in fact the coach to help the young, budding stars of the Avs reach the next level?

While Sacco will be the head coach of the Avalanche going into next season, all bets are off after that.  Sidney Crosby had three head coaches before finally winning the Stanley Cup in his fourth NHL season.

With the lowest payroll and the youngest team in the league, the Avs were expected by many to be at the bottom of the standings.  

But it took 81 games for the Avs to be eliminated. 

After the acquisition of Semyon Varlamov, the Caps arrogantly called the trade a "fleecing" and claimed that they would be getting a lottery pick out of the deal.  Well, the Caps won't be at the draft lottery this year. Sorry to disappoint. 

Varlamov got off to an up-and-down start during his Avalanche tenure.  He was deeply affected by the tragic plane crash his former team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, was involved in, which claimed the lives of former Avs Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei.

However, Varly handled his trials like a true professional and was excellent in the second half of the season. He proved he has all the skills to be a bona fide No. 1 NHL goaltender.  If he continues to trend upward, the sky is the limit for the Avs and the Russian Spy.

It certainly did not hurt that when Varly faltered, the Avs could lean on former Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has also been an excellent mentor to the young Russian netminder.

It will be tough watching another year of the Stanley Cup Playoffs without the Avalanche participating, but there are very bright days ahead for the Colorado Avalanche!

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