- Darrald Bennett
- Joe Sakic (pictured in a regular season game against Atlanta) leads the Avalanche toward their post-season finale
Before leaving for L.A. Saturday, Peter Forsberg grew philosophical, wondering if "maybe we wanted it too much" after the Avalanche lost a 1-0 game despite 25 saves from Patrick Roy. But the single-mindedly focused Roy would hear none of it.
"Who cares about my performance?" Roy said, dismissing any praise for the third of his four heroic efforts blocking the net. "We lost. That's what we care about."
Nobody makes a wilder ride of the playoffs than the Avalanche, who tend to lose crucial games when they know they can spare them, and then fall short when they need that one win back.
"It's a roller coaster ride," said Adam Foote, after losing 1-0 in Game 5. "It's highs and lows. Maybe we got too high last game." But the farther you go in a series like this, the closer the action gets, heightening the slope of the steep climbs and sudden plunges. With every passing period, teams read each other better on the ice, rocketing up the learning curve and adjusting, adapting, outthinking each other into the kind of stalemates that keep you tensed and clenched, holding your breath into a second overtime to see what maddening fluke will tilt the scales.
"They got [the breaks] because they deserved them," Avalanche Coach Bob Hartley said after the team's loss in Game 5 Friday. "They were better than us." The Kings were also better in Game 6, despite an even more dominant performance from Roy, shutting down the Kings for 82 minutes and 31 saves until Glen Murray found a hole in his armor. The Avs couldn't hit the Kings' net, failing in each of 33 tries to get past Felix Potvin Sunday, extending a streak of eight scoreless periods over three games.
"Sometimes, if you put too much pressure on yourself, you feel like your legs are a hundred pounds each; you just can't move," Roy said, assessing his performance in the 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1. "That's the way I felt." He rebounded to break the NHL playoff shutout record at home in Game 2, extending it to 17 with another shutout on the road in Game 4.
"I have to relax and enjoy my game," he explained after the first shutout in Denver, "but still be intense and focused. That's my bread and butter." He rebuilt his confidence "one save at a time" as he returned to peak form.
"He told you that he was aware that he was not playing up to his standards," Hartley reminded reporters after Roy's first shutout, "but he also told you that he could raise the bar. There's one athlete in this league that can do it, and it's Patrick."
The other great pressure-bearer is team captain Joe Sakic, whose fortune mirrors that of the team. He leads the league in goals, and the Avs lead the league in wins. He falls prey to injury in the playoffs, and the Avs stumble behind him. They couldn't compete without Sakic in Game 5. Pucks floated in front of Potvin as the Avalanche kept setting up shots without a player in reach to slip it in the net. Every time an aimless Avs puck idled by, you saw Sakic's absence like a hole in the rain, outlining the perimeter of the missing shape.
"As strong and great a player as Joe is, we can't rely on Joe Sakic to come in and save the day," mused Foote. "We're going to have to all chip in here and play better hockey." Foote is right, as the Game 6 loss upon Sakic's return proved, but Sakic knows better after too many postseason disappointments. He had to lead the Avs to victory in Game 7, or watch the team die trying.