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Avalanche center Paul Stastny scored Game 1’s winning goal Thursday against the Wild. His earlier goal tied the score late in regulation.

Jack Dempsey • Associated Press,

Avs' Stastny goes from trade bait to essential

  • Article by: Michael Kelly
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • April 19, 2014 - 12:19 AM

– As the NHL trading deadline neared six weeks ago, Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny was getting anxious.

There were rumors the team was looking to move him, but he wanted to stay. So on March 5, with the 3 p.m. Eastern time deadline approaching and the team in Detroit, Stastny attended mass on Ash Wednesday and then watched “American Hustle” in his hotel room while he checked his phone for messages.

When the deadline passed and he was still a member of the Avalanche, he was relieved.

“To me it was kind of a sign of confidence that they want me and I’m an important piece,” Stastny said. “For a couple of days you think about it; it’s hard not to. We have such a good group of guys. They see that.”

Everyone saw the benefit of keeping Stastny in Thursday’s 5-4 victory over the Wild in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. Stastny came through with a tying goal with 13.4 seconds left in regulation and then won it 7:27 into overtime.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Stastny is the first player in Stanley Cup playoffs history to score a tying goal in the final 15 seconds of regulation and then win the game in overtime.

It turned out not making a trade was the smart move, but coach Patrick Roy said the team never really considered dealing him.

“Honestly, it was not even close for us to move Paulie,” Roy said. “We said all along we didn’t want rental players.”

Speculation that Stastny was on the market stemmed from the fact that his five-year, $33 million contract was up after this season and he would be too expensive to keep at that price. However, Stastny said before the trade deadline he would be willing to give Colorado a hometown discount.

It showed Roy that Stastny wanted to remain part of the organization.

“We believe Paul wants to stay as an Avalanche next year and we think there’s a good chance he can sign with us,” Roy said. “How it happens, that will be up to [executive vice president] Joe [Sakic] and [Matt Keator, Stastny’s] agent to discuss. I think Paul has the Avs in his heart, he loves to be in this town and he loves these fans.”

The stable of young centers on the roster made him expendable at trade deadline time, possibly for help on the blue line. But Colorado’s defensive corps improved over the course of the season, especially the development of Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden and Nate Guenin.

The clog at center was solved when Ryan O’Reilly and rookie Nathan MacKinnon moved seamlessly to wing, giving the Avalanche several strong scoring lines.

Nearly all the scorers were on the ice when Stastny tied Thursday’s game, although they weren’t sure the puck went in at first.

“I double-clutched at first,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “I was celebrating, but then I didn’t want to but I didn’t know where the puck was. I peered over to the net and saw it stuck to the top of the net. Pure excitement.”

Keeping Stastny made more sense when centers Matt Duchene (left knee) and John Mitchell (head) were injured in the final two weeks of the regular season. Roy had no update on either player Friday, adding that “it’s going well for them, but they’re not close to playing.”

For now, Stastny isn’t thinking about his future. The pressure and grind of the playoffs takes up his energy.

“I’m here to win,” he said. “I don’t care about that [contract] stuff, it’s down the road. It’s all about this team.”

© 2014 Star Tribune