CENTENNIAL, Colo. – The Colorado Avalanche is limping into its first-round playoff series with the Wild, but the situation doesn’t appear to be as dire as the Central Division champion first suspected.
Centers Matt Duchene (left knee) and John Mitchell (head) will not play in Game 1, and although Duchene likely will miss the series, coach Patrick Roy said Mitchell could be back at some point.
“We’ll know more in a few days, but he looked better every day,” Roy said. “I’m confident he’ll play somewhere in the playoffs.”
The news is even brighter for Colorado on the blue line. Defensemen Jan Hejda and Tyson Barrie suffered upper-body injuries in the final two games, but neither is serious. Barrie skated in Tuesday’s practice and said he’s fine, while Hejda sat out after being injured in Sunday’s finale at Anaheim. Although Hejda didn’t practice, Roy said he is day-to-day.
“I expect him to play against Minny,” Roy said.
Barrie, who took a hard hit in Friday’s loss at San Jose, initially feared it was a major injury, but he improved over the weekend.
“The next day I felt really good. Yesterday, felt 100 percent. Today, same thing,” Barrie said. “No symptoms. Done all the tests, doesn’t seem to be any lingering effects.”
Additionally, forward Cody McLeod will play after missing the past six games because of a high left ankle sprain.
The Avalanche players have shrugged off the loss of Duchene, the team’s leading scorer. He was injured on a knee-to-knee hit with teammate Jamie McGinn on the first shift on March 29 and limped off the ice. At the time Colorado was battling Chicago for home ice in the first round, but the team went 6-1-2 without him.
“We’ve been dealing with injuries all season long, just like any other team,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Whether it’s to key players or not, it is what it is. We’ve always managed to win games, whether we have guys in the lineup or out of the lineup. Certainly doesn’t bother us.”
Forward P.A. Parenteau missed 25 games, including 15 in March and April because of a right knee injury. He returned last Friday and will play on the top line, centered by rookie Nathan MacKinnon.
“I wanted to get two [games] at least under my belt before I get to the playoffs, and I did. Now it’s the real deal,” he said. “We’re going to be well-prepared and ready to go. My knees feel pretty fine, too. Cardio-wise, the two games were really good for me to get under my belt.”
Two weeks ago, when the Avalanche looked destined to face the Blackhawks in the first round, Bruce Johnson, a Wild season-ticket holder, passed on Wild playoff tickets so he could travel to Chicago to watch his son, Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson.
The Avalanche’s season-ending surge flipped the script, and now the elder Johnson is out of luck.
“We go on the big run, St. Louis lost some games and we ended up winning the division,” said the younger Johnson, a former Gopher from Bloomington. “He’s kind of kicking himself that he doesn’t have those two seats on the blue line, but we’ll find him some tickets. I think we’ll manage.”
Set in the net
Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov won a league-leading 41 games this season, and in the process broke the franchise record for single-season victories previously held by his coach. Varlamov’s breakout season was special, but his focus is on the playoffs now.
“Of course it’s a big deal to beat Patrick’s record. He’s one of the best goalies in the world,” Varlamov said. “For me, it was a big deal. The season is over. Right now we’re focused on the playoffs. We can’t wait for the playoffs to start.”