DETROIT - Joe Louis himself would have been ashamed.
In the building named after the great boxer, in the building where so many previous Colorado Avalanche teams battled to the last, bloody second, the current version of the Avs went out with a feeble whimper in their final game ever at Joe Louis Arena. The Detroit Red Wings, on the strength of four straight third-period goals, crushed the Avs 5-1 Saturday afternoon before a lively crowd.
A victory may not have been realistically expected, but a little more fight, literally and/or figuratively, should have easy enough to muster in the building of so many past wars on ice. But the 2016-17 Avs just doesn't seem to have it in them.
A 1-1 game in the third period, after Nathan MacKinnon tied it up at 3:44, turned into an embarrassing final 16 minutes. As historical analogies go, it felt like the first period of Game 7 here, 2002 Western Conference finals. One goal after another whizzed by Avs goalie Calvin Pickard, who was done no favors by a soft, careless defense in front of him most of the day.
The killer goal, by Tomas Tatar 5:20 of the period, came following an Erik Johnson turnover just outside the Avs' blue line, to Luke Glendening. Johnson compounded the problem by falling down in his attempt to get back, leading to an odd-man rush that Tatar finished off into a wide open net past an over-committed Pickard.
Pickard, who stopped only 18-of-23 shots, was beaten to the far post by Tatar coming down the left wall at 6:56 to make it 3-1. The Avs, frankly, just looked like quitters after that. Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist added additional goals and the jubilant Joe crowd walked into the cold late afternoon air happy people.
Pickard summed up the third period thusly:
The best Avs coach Jared Bednar could muster about his team's battle level was that it was "Just OK."
"I didn't like our collapse at the end of that game," Bednar said. "I liked some parts of our game; We did some good things offensively, some things good defensively. I thought after we got that one that we'd get some traction, but then a couple of breakdowns took the wind out of our sails."
Bednar was being too kind to his team's offensive effort the first two periods. The Avs had a few chances, but didn't work hard enough around the net and made soft plays coming into the zone. Neither Matt Duchene nor Gabe Landeskog had a shot on net all day.
Now it's on to Chicago for the Avs, against one of the hottest teams in the league. Twelve games remain in this nightmare of a season. The Avs could have made Game No. 69 a memorable one with a win and season sweep of the Wings. But just like most of this season, the battle seemed over before it really even began.