Avalanche good model for next year's Chicago Blackhawks

No team in the NHL was worse than the Colorado Avalanche last season.

• They won 22 times and went 4-24-2 over a 30-game stretch.

• They averaged 2 goals a game and had one 20-goal scorer.

• And they had the worst power play and second-worst penalty kill in the league.

Yet, somehow, someway, the Avs came into the United Center on Tuesday night occupying the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

How did this miraculous turnaround happen?

“Change of attitude,” said coach Jared Bednar, whose Avs officially eliminated the Hawks from playoff contention and improved to 40-25-8 with a 5-1 victory.

“Right from Day One at training camp we wanted to prove that that wasn’t us last year and earn back some respect through the league.”

Still, going from 22 wins to possibly 45, 46 or 47 can’t all be because of an attitude change, especially considering the Avs traded leading scorer Matt Duchene to Ottawa in November.

Colorado’s success stems from an infusion of youth (seven new faces are 25 or younger), big seasons by their stars (Nathan MacKinnon has 38 goals, Mikko Rantanen 26 and Gabriel Landeskog 24), and the return of netminder Semyon Varlamov from an injury-plagued campaign.

“Last year we had an old group and didn’t have the speed game,” Rantanen said. “This year is different. Everybody that was part of last year, we all want to show that’s not who we are. It was so bad.”

MacKinnon’s 91 points are second in the NHL, and he extended his points streak to 13 games against the Hawks when he fed Rantanen for a second-period goal that gave the Avs a 2-1 lead. Seven minutes later, Tyson Barrie extended his points streak to 11 games when he scored on the power play.

Brent Seabrook gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead when he scored his fifth goal of the season with 4:15 remaining in the first period.

The Avs scored twice in the last two minutes to put the game away.

Colorado was just 17-16-3 on Dec. 27 — the same day the Hawks placed Corey Crawford on injured reserve — but then went on a 10-game winning streak and have been solid ever since.

“It was a fun time for the team,” Rantanen said. “Everyone was feeling good. That was a big thing for our season.”

The Avs’ formula could be one the Blackhawks use next season. A healthy Crawford combined with big seasons from Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat, and continued growth from a young, evolving D corps might spark a resurgence.

“(This) is a situation we’ve never been in,” said coach Joel Quenneville, whose team is 30-35-9 overall and 13-22-4 since Crawford went on IR. “For a long time we’ve been in a good spot from start to finish. …

“But what we’re seeing now is you can have an off year and next year be right back at the top.”

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Source: Sports

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