It’s the first time in the history of Denver that the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche have advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs in the same year. To many outside of the city of Denver this may appear to be nothing more than coincidence and dumb luck. To those who are lucky enough to live within the confines of this incredible city, it’s much less than shock and awe and much more “I told you so” mixed with excitement for the future.
It’s funny to think that a franchise that’s been around since 1967 in the Denver Nuggets, and another franchise in the Colorado Avalanche who have won 2 Stanley Cups, have never advanced in the playoffs together. This is where the counter to the “dumb luck” argument comes into play. The Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets are both considered some of the youngest teams in their respected leagues. With age comes experience, especially playoff experience, so how do two incredibly young teams find a way to advance into the 2nd round of the playoffs without battled-tested vets up and down the roster? In 1 word, coaching.
The Colorado Avalanche– It’s almost surreal to watch this team dominate in the Playoffs this year when just 2 short years ago, they were in the depths of what many considered one of the worst NHL seasons since the beginning of the Salary Cap era. This team was a train-wreck, a dumpster fire, and yet no mention was made throughout the locker-room that year from any of the players that the blame lied upon the ineptly hired, Jared Bednar. After the end of the season, Sakic decided to keep the coach and against all odds made the playoffs the very next year with many mentions that Bednar should be coach of the year. That’s not to say the Avalanche didn’t have their struggles this season, winning only 4 games in almost a 2 month period the playoffs looked like a pipe dream and the roller coaster ride for the Avalanche franchise continued. Something changed, the Avs found their way, propelled by secondary scoring from players and lineups concocted up by the mad scientist head coach of the Avalanche. Months later and a team that many considered out of the playoffs are in the middle of another playoff run that has the potential to go far. Bednar has been praised as a tactical genius when it comes to hockey, but more so his players have rallied around his calm and stoic demeanor that have this team motivated and focused to keep pushing deep into the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets– The Denver Nuggets have been a team on the steady rise for a couple years now. These days in the NBA, it’s rare to see a team that steadily progresses from one year to the next slowly but surely getting better and better. Most of the credit can be attributed to head coach Michael Malone, who took the team over in the 2015-2016 season and from there went from 33 wins, to 40 wins, to 46 wins, to this current season with 54 wins. More important than that is how his own players interact with him, and over the course of 4 years Malone has been able to build a solid nucleus of young talent that he believes in and trusts, and the players have responded. It’s refreshing to see that player-coach bond be so strong with the Nuggets, especially in the NBA nowadays where with one wave of a superstars finger, any coach replaced (cough cough LeBron).
The players love this guy, the team isn’t a team of super stars stacked throughout the roster and there are a real threat in the playoffs due in big part to Coach Malone.