Friday, April 25, 2014

Roy can dip into the past to give Avs lesson on tempered expectations

Denver, CO -- The Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche is tied at two games apiece, but Avs head coach Patrick Roy still felt compelled to defend his up-and-coming club after dropping two games in St. Paul after winning two in a row on home ice to start the best-of-seven set.

"It was not to go 16-0. How many teams have been 16-0 in the history of the NHL? ... Is there one? No? I'm surprised to hear that. I thought there were a hundred teams," Roy deadpanned when asked how he thought his Central Division champions would fare in the postseason. "It's tough in the playoffs. The 2-2 doesn't bother me one bit. It's how we're going to bounce back that I want to see tomorrow."

Colorado has endured a meteoric rise from 29th in the league a season ago to third overall, thanks to No. 1 overall pick and prohibitive Calder Trophy favorite Nathan McKinnon, a goaltender in Semyon Varlamov who broke Roy's single-season wins record and garnered mention as a Vezina Trophy candidate for the first time in his career, and a half-dozen other talents who have logged less than five years of service in the NHL. 

After a blistering franchise-record 14-2-0 start to the season, Roy's club cooled off a bit mid-year, only to regroup after the Olympics to outwait an injured Blues club and a sputtering Blackhawks and rise to the top of their division and gain the second seed in the Western Conference. What followed was an emotional comeback 5-4 overtime win on home ice in Game 1 and a solid 4-2 decision in Game 2.

But the tables turned in the Twin Cities, with the avalanche of offense suddenly reversed to flakes of chances, and two combined goals in losing 1-0 in OT and 2-1 over Games 3 and 4 as the Wild turned to the choking defensive game which is a franchise hallmark. The tides of momentum in this series have pundits searching for equal and opposite poles of rhetoric depending on which team wins and loses. 

Roy seems circumspect, for good reason.

"I understand we want a fast track. I understand we want to be Stanley Cup contenders. But it's a learning process. What the Montreal Canadiens did in '86 with eight rookies (including Roy), I'm not going to tell you it's going to happen every year. Maybe it has changed. It's tough to win the Stanley Cup." 

After that surprise triumph in '86 against the upstart Calgary Flames which netted Roy the Conn Smythe Trophy, it was a rocky road for both he and the Canadiens. Montreal lost in the Wales Conference Finals in '87 to the Flyers, with Roy eventually supplanted as starter by backup Brian Hayward, and the Habs dropped a five-game series to Boston in the Adams Division Finals in '88. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in '89, a loss to Calgary, Roy didn't sniff the third round until his next Cup win in 1993. 

Once in Colorado, he led the nascent Avalanche to the Cup Finals in 1996, but lost to Detroit the next year in the Western Finals, then bombed out with the rest of his mates in the first round against Edmonton in '98. Colorado lost twice to Dallas in the third round in '99 and 2000, before winning the Cup again in 2001. Two years later, after he allowed an overtime winner to Andrew Brunette in Game 7 on home ice against the Wild which saw the Avs squander a 3-1 series edge, Roy decided to call it quits.

"I know we love to say we're Stanley Cup contenders, bingo, like this. You know that I love winning. But we need to be patient with our group," Roy added. "This is a young team. These are huge steps and this is a learning process. I'm proud of my team. I'm extremely proud. I'm not going to throw them under the bus because I'm their partner. I've been with them all along. I trust our team."

That's a big step for a Hall-of-Fame talent who was notoriously competitive, demanding the best of himself and of his teammates over 18 seasons, and never being shy to express that opinion. Roy the player could put you on blast, but Roy the head coach has recognized a steadier hand has to prevail. 

Roy even found himself staring at the situation from the opposite side. The Quebec Remparts called on him early in the 2005-06 season to take over for Eric Lavigne, and rolled the wave of momentum from his unique brand of leadership to 52 wins and the QMJHL Finals, where they lost to Moncton. However, the following season, his club only won 37 games and suffered a first-round playoff defeat. Still, he continued to build and develop, with the Remparts winning two playoff rounds in both 2009 and 2011, though the club won just one round the last two seasons.

"Can we skip some of it? I hope so," Roy said about the pains which accompany the growth process for many NHL teams. "But I'm very proud of what we have accomplished so far. Am I satisfied? The answer is no."

When Roy entered the league almost 30 years ago, it was a shock when a club that accumulated a number of wins north of 45 didn't at least make it to the Stanley Cup round. In the NHL of the 21st Century, regular-season success is no indicator of postseason largesse and vice versa, but Roy has already seemed to have conquered his own biggest enemy and that facing his team if he is learning to live with the results one game at a time.
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