Colorado Avalanche: Playoff Bound

Austin SnowCorrespondent IIApril 2, 2008

To all the critics who said Peter Forsberg would have no impact when he came back, apology statements can be sent to:

Attention: Peter Forsberg
Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club
Pepsi Center
1000 Chopper Circle
Denver, CO 80204

Forsberg scored a flawless breakaway goal in the third period and assisted on Milan Hejduk's game-tying goal in the second period to give him eight points in his last three games. Since re-joining the Avalanche, he has averaged nearly 1.4 points per game, and has not failed to impress. The one downfall is the consistency of his name being on the lineup sheet to start a game. He has played only seven games out of the 14 possible since his return, and Avalanche fans may have to get used to his play being sporadic. But no one is going to complain when he is contributing this much.

Many Colorado fans may not remember the way "Peter the Great" played, but he hasn't lost an ounce of his ability since leaving Colorado 4 years ago. Yes, he's older, and may not play quite as much. But when he is playing, he is as physical as ever, and is a force to be reckoned with. Take the breakway goal he scored on Luongo last night. It was effortless. And it looked so easy. Once that puck touched his stick, it was destined to be in the back of the net. Imagine how Vancouver's netminder felt seeing Forsberg breaking in alone on the net. He never had a chance. That goal showed that Forsberg still has "it". It wasn't a lucky bounce, or Luongo's fault. It was just a clean, beautiful goal. And it silenced his critics.

A few other players got in on the action for the Avalanche last night. Hejduk, along with tying the game in the second on a huge wrister he ripped pass Luongo, assisted on John Michael Liles' powerplay goal a few minutes before. Andrew Brunette, easily the Av's most underrated forward, chipped in two assists, along with captain Joe Sakic. The "big guns" for the Avalanche got it done last night, and could savor that achievement with the news that they had clinched a playoff spot with the win. That's big news here in Colorado. The Avalanche never missed a post season since moving to the Mile High City, and last year's stretch run was not worthy of missing the playoffs. Things felt uncannily quiet along the front range with no playoff hockey to be played, and fans were left scratching their heads wondering what kind of damage they could have done if they had gotten in.

But that's all in the past, and now the Avalanche can say they're over that gaffe and back on track. Even this late in the season, the division crown is still up for grabs. Anyone who visits Pepsi Center will see the banners marking Colorado's ownership of the Northwest Division, and Avalanche faithful would like nothing more than to add another to that impressive display. They'll need a little help though. Calgary has to beat Minnesota, but then lose to Vancouver to close out the season. That would set up a decisive battle in Denver on Sunday against the Wild, with the winner taking the crown. (The Avs would have to win in regulation to tie Minnesota for points, and they would hold the tiebreaker to win the division.)

Apart from that, Colorado could wind up in the sixth or seventh seed when the regular season ends on Sunday. No doubt the members of the Avalanche are doing a little scoreboard watching when they get a chance, but they know they need to worry about their own game, and let the chips fall as they will. After last night, they can sleep a little better on this four day break knowing their season will continue beyond Sunday's contest. Young players like Paul Stastny and David Jones will get their first tastes of what playoff hockey is like, and seasoned veterans like Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, and Adam Foote will be leading the way. Other players on Colorado's roster without playoff experience include Jeff Finger, Cody McLeod, Cody McCormick, Ben Guite, and Jaroslav Hlinka. That's a relatively short list, which bodes well for this Colorado team which is littered with post-season success. Forsberg, Sakic, and Foote each have two Stanley Cups with this club, along with Milan Hejduk, who won one cup with the team in 2001. Peter Budaj also has not seen action in a post season game, but his use will be limited barring any injury to starter Jose Theodore.If their goaltending can really be cemented into a consistent concrete wall, this team will make a long, deep run into this spring's post-season. Jose Theodore has it in him to step up and lead the team to success, and he has a supporting cast around him who can make his job easy. He just has to remain focused, which hasn't looked too hard coming down the stretch. The players are confident with him in net, and it shows. Coming back from multiple goal deficits on multiple nights isn't an easy thing to do, and it's only possible when you know you can count on the guy in between the pipes and focus on scoring.

Apart from all the speculation and excitement of the playoffs, the Avalanche know they still have business to take care of at home on Sunday. But the approach of the playoffs brings a certain buzz and excitement to the still chilly Rocky Mountain air. I know I have my tickets. Do you?