Jared Bednar doesn't come into the Avalanche dressing room too often right after games. Most coaches don't, ceding the time and turf to players to absorb what they've just been through. But there was Bednar, a few minutes after the Avs had beaten the Florida Panthers 2-1, looking for his goalie.
Bednar extended his hand to Semyon Varlamov, which was reciprocated, and the coach essentially thanked him for his work on a night when a big goaltending effort was needed.
"I wouldn't say he stole it for us, but I'll say this: He gave us a chance to get our legs underneath us," Bednar said. "He allowed us to get a little more intensity to our game."
Bednar didn't like the start of his team too much. Not that the Avs were terrible, finishing the period in a scoreless tie. But, much like the paltry crowd on hand, the team was a bit flat. Florida had some very good scoring chances in the first, and Varlamov got a bit of puck luck at times. But other than an Aleksander Barkov short-handed goal, after a giveaway behind the net by Sam Girard, Varly looked back to his in-command self. He finished with 32 saves, including all 13 shots he saw in the third period.
It was Varly's second win over the Panthers within the past week, and his saves percentage rose from .903 to .906,his goals-against lowering from 3.21 to 3.08. Closer, in other words, to numbers befitting a No. 1 goalie making $5.9 million.
"I don't feel any different than I have recently," Varlamov said. "I'm just trying to make that first save. I made some saves early, so that was a good start for me."
The Avs are back to an above .500 team again (yes, I know overtime losses technically make that not so to some people, but if you have more wins that losses in regulation, it counts as over. 500 in my book) and Varlamov knows it won't be easy the rest of this homestand, with games against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh to come.
"We know where we are in the standings. By the end of this month, we need to be in the playoff picture," he said. "If you're six or eight points out of the playoffs by January, it's hard to play catchup hockey in this league."
Maybe that's what's so different and refreshing about this season's Avs team; Not even their most optimistic of fans are expecting a realistic run at the playoffs. But the players are, at least the leaders in the room such as Varlamov. After the misery of last year, to even think about the playoffs, even at this juncture, is quite the change.
If the Avs' No. 1 goalie can get hot like he's shown he can, the playoffs might not be as outlandish a possibility as many think.