DENVER - With a devil on one shoulder telling him to go for it and an angel on the other urging him to play it safe, Patrick Roy bet on brimstone.
Just like his players knew he would.
And so, having long ago taken on the personality of their fiery coach, the Colorado Avalanche, unpredictable, exciting and scrappy to the end, went out and delivered a miraculous Game 1 finish — tying their series opener with 13 seconds left and winning it in overtime.
“I love that we pulled our goalie with three minutes left,” said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, a day after their shocking 5-4 comeback victory over the Minnesota Wild. “It’s just that mentality that we’ve got nothing to lose.”
And maybe that’s why they didn’t.
Whatever Roy is X’ing and O’ing on whiteboards and in film rooms, it’s not nearly as important as the emotional impact he had on an Avalanche team that went from 29th to third overall in one year with him at the helm. Roy is teaching them to think like he does, and that can be a very dangerous weapon.
“Absolutely,” said winger Jamie McGinn. “All people see are the antics behind the bench, but we see what kind of guy he is, how he’s always supporting us, how he’s never negative. We want to play for a guy like that. It shows in how hard and consistent we’ve been all year. We want to make him proud and we want to make the guys in the room proud, too.”
So they overcome a two-goal deficit against a team that closes out two goal deficits in its sleep.
“You had that feeling on the bench that there was never any doubt,” said defenceman Erik Johnson. “Down two in the third, we’ve been there a few times this year and there is never any doubt with this group.”
And the new-age coach yanked his goalie with three minutes left based on all of the statistical evidence that suggests it’s better to give your players more time, right?
“No, I never look at statistics to be quite honest,” shrugged Roy. “Sometimes you just go with your feeling. If you have the momentum, I’m not afraid to do it early, even if it could backfire.”
He’s not kidding.
“He did it with four and a half or five minutes earlier this year,” said Ryan O’Reilly. “Whatever it takes to win.”
As a player and now as a coach, that’s the only motto Roy’s ever believed in.
“I was coaching bantam in tournament and we did it in the second period,” he said. “We had a five on three. We were down three or four nothing. We pulled the goalie and scored twice.”
The players love it. In a room full of Alpha Dogs, nobody needs to be asked twice to take the fight to the other guys.
“It’s almost like we expect to score,” said defenceman Nate Guenin. “And we’ve got the guys on the ice to do it.”
It doesn’t always work out. In fact, it came about three inches and one sensational Johnson save away from blowing up on their faces, but you can bet they’ll be doing it again.
“I know one day it might bite us, but it’s a long-term thing,” said Roy. “If you do it 10 times and score four times, 40% is pretty big. If we give up one goal, what the heck, let’s keep doing it.”
Roy’s aggressive posture is also highly contagious. Midway through the frantic three-minute 6-on-5 Colorado’s players, who were out there for the whole stretch, considered taking a time out. Then they looked across the ice, saw that Minnesota’s players were just as gassed and decided to, yup, go for it.
“I asked (Stastny) if he wanted a time out and he said you know what, they’re tired too,” said Landeskog. “We kept going. We were sucking wind at the end.”
And laughing about it the next day.
“It was pure joy,” said Landeskog.
“Pure excitement,” said Johnson. “It’s pretty awesome to be able to tie a game with 13 seconds left. We did it a couple of times during the regular season but to do it with these kind of stakes is really a rush.”
GET OVER IT
The Minnesota Wild aren’t even trying to hide the pain.
All they can do is bury it as quickly and as deeply as possible.
“We have to take what we can take from the last game, but most of it we have to leave behind,” head coach Mike Yeo said as the Wild regrouped Friday after blowing a two-goal third-period lead in Game 1 against Colorado.
“You’re going to face adversity in the playoffs and you’re going to have to deal with it. We’re confident we’re a group that’s capable of that.
“It’s frustrating that we let a game get away from us, but if we won that game there were no guarantees, either. It’s one game. There were enough positives to take from that game where we should feel good about ourselves.”
But not that good, according to Avs coach Patrick Roy.
“It has to affect a team when you’re getting tied with 13 seconds left and losing in overtime. This is a game you felt that you had. That has to hurt a bit.”