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Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon reacts to his assist against the Minnesota Wild in the second period during Game 2 of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. (USA TODAY Sports)

Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon reacts to his assist against the Minnesota Wild in the second period during Game 2 of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center.

(USA TODAY Sports)

Duhatschek: Avs’ MacKinnon amazes on the NHL’s biggest stage Add to ...


Watch: MacKinnon sets up Landeskog for beauty

Watching the Avalanche play calls to mind an observation by long-time coach Dave King who, during the dawn of the NHL’s dead-puck era, once lamented that it’s too bad fans can’t come into the arenas for practices because that is when the collective skill of NHL players is most often on display.

Even players cast in secondary roles on an NHL roster, given an extra foot of ice or an extra second of time, could make great plays. But then come the games and they evolve into these defensive chess matches, where the goal is to slow everything down and close fast on the puck carrier.

If the Minnesotas, St. Louises and Bostons of the NHL world represent tightly choreographed Bob Fosse shows, then the Avalanche are a freewheeling Second City review, full of improvisation. It’s quite a spectacle, reminiscent of the NHL when Roy played, and good for the game if the Avalanche can succeed because of the inherent copycat nature of the league.

If a team can actually succeed with the sort of rollicking style the Avalanche plays – which doesn’t track well on the advanced stats meter – maybe it will convince other teams to show a little more courage too.

Roy’s decision to play riskier hockey in the late stages of games – as the Denver Post noted Sunday, the Avs have now five times this year pulled the goalie with more than two minutes to go on the clock and produced the tying goal – is supported by statistical analysis.

So there’s method in the madness and it remains to be seen now if the Avalanche can finish off the Wild, who have actually played a pretty good series thus far and look as if they’ll go with the rookie Darcy Kuemper in goal the rest of the way after Ilya Bryzgalov was blown up for eight goals in the first two games.

Colorado has put the entertainment back in the game and it’s a good thing. We’ll see how it lasts.

PAYING THE PIPER: The strength of the Avs all season long has been their one-two punch down the middle; with injured No. 1 centre Matt Duchene ably supported by Stastny in a 1A role most of the year, and John Mitchell working well as an effective No. 3.

It gave them unbelievable depth because two other natural centres, Ryan O’Reilly and MacKinnon, played out of position, on the wing, but they were always options to shift back to the middle, when injuries required them to do so.

The Avalanche allowed Stastny’s contract to expire this year, so he will join the Montreal Canadiens’ Thomas Vanek as arguably the two most attractive unrestricted free agents on the open market this season.

Here’s the dilemma with Stastny: When they signed him to his current contract – five years, $33-million, an average annual cap hit of $6.6-million – he was roughly a point-per-game player in his first four NHL seasons (264 in 274 games) and they paid him accordingly.

In the past four years, his numbers have fallen well off. Likely, on the open market, where teams are often forced to pay a premium to sign free agents, Stastny may well get dollars roughly equivalent to what he is earning now.

Within Colorado’s payroll structure, where they will eventually need to pay big money to sign the likes of Landeskog and MacKinnon to extensions, they probably can’t afford to pay him more than $5-million or so per season, which is what his stats say he probably should earn.

So Stastny will likely have to make a decision this summer – stay put in Denver, which has been his home since 2004, when he played the first of two seasons for the University of Denver, or move elsewhere, for a higher pay day. Whatever he decides, his play early on in these playoffs will greatly enhance his market value, if he chooses to go to market.

THE POST-SHANNY ERA: The NHL’s player safety department dropped a $5,000 fine on the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic for a slash between the legs against Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser in the opening game of their series, but the first real test of the Stephane Quintal-Brian Leetch regime came Sunday when they dinged the Chicago Blackhawks’ Brent Seabrook with a three-game suspension for his hit to the head of the St. Louis Blues’ David Backes in Saturday’s game, a 4-3 overtime loss for Chicago. Seabrook left his feet to make the hit; Backes didn’t have the puck; and the blow staggered him.

It was a textbook example of what not to do in an NHL trying to be more aware of the concussive effects of a blow to the head. Seabrook noted that he has been on the other side of that hit – from Raffi Torres, back when he played for the Vancouver Canucks, in the 2011 playoffs – but he didn’t sound like a player who figured he was going to get off scot free the way Torres did.

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