On a weekday afternoon in early May, when the sun was low and the sky was blue, the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche were on the ice for the first time in their history.
The team had not played since their first game on Jan. 13, 2001, and their home arena was already nearly full.
But it was a good start.
The Avalanche, who finished last in the league in scoring last season, had been outscored by 17 goals in the first half of the season.
The winless Avalanche had been playing well, but had struggled in the past month, as the NHL’s worst team scored fewer than a goal per game, and Colorado’s goaltending unit was struggling to stay healthy.
The season was already off to a shaky start for the Avalanche.
After a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 10, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy had decided to rest some of his young stars, hoping to get them to play in the playoffs.
“I think that was a smart thing to do,” Roy said.
“We got to play every night and see where we are.”
It was an odd decision to make, as Colorado had gone 0-5-2 with a 3-3-2 record the first three months of the year.
They would go 2-2-1 after a 3.01 goal-scoring average during the stretch.
The results weren’t great.
The league-leading Avalanche finished the regular season at 20-11-5.
But the team fell in the Western Conference finals to the Edmonton Oilers in seven games.
“It was a tough start,” said Avalanche defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who had 11 points.
“You know, we knew we weren’t going to make it in the West and we had a lot of things going against us.”
Roy said he wanted his team to get healthy before getting into the playoffs, because the playoffs are a little different than a regular season.
“Obviously, you want to get into the playoff races and then you have to play to win,” he said.
The game had no drama.
Colorado’s only goal came from Colorado forward Tyler Johnson, who found the back of the net at 11:28 of the first period.
Johnson had a hat trick in the series opener, and he scored three more goals in Colorado’s second game in Colorado before leaving the game with an apparent knee injury.
“He didn’t feel good, and we thought that was the only thing that was bothering him,” Roy explained.
“So, we went to him and told him that he had a broken knee, and that he was going to miss six weeks.”
Johnson, whose season was over after his first season in the NHL, went back to the AHL.
He played in nine games in the third and fourth periods, but he wasn’t playing well.
“When you’re out there and you’re not playing well you get frustrated,” Roy recalled.
“And that’s when you think you have the chance to play a game or two, so we thought, ‘Well, we’ll get him in now and see what we can do.'”
In Colorado, the Avalanche were hoping Johnson would return soon, so he could be ready to play against the Sharks on Nov. 11.
But Johnson, now 34, has missed five of the last six games.
He had surgery in January and missed six weeks of the regular campaign after breaking his collarbone in his fifth game.
“That was a very tough injury to have, but it was not as bad as I expected it to be,” Roy told reporters on the sidelines.
“The doctor said he thought he had one or two more months of recovery, but that didn’t happen.”
Johnson said he was grateful for the support he received from Roy, but “I’m still disappointed.
It’s the first game and I had no expectations, and I didn’t have anything to play for.”
Johnson had played in four games the year before against the Oilers, but his goal total has been a bit low this season.
He’s had three goals and seven assists.
“His performance has been solid, but I thought we were a little bit more consistent,” Roy added.
“With our goals, we had to score goals and he had to do a lot more.
He has a little more of an edge.
He is a tough, gritty player, and a real good skater.
I thought he was very impressive.”
With Johnson out, Roy said the Avalanche’s second line was expected to play more of a third-line role, but they weren’t getting it done.
“They were out there a lot and they were the two lines that got the most goals,” Roy noted.
“But they were not getting enough of the points, and you have a guy like Tyler Johnson who is going to get those goals.”
The first half had been one of the most encouraging of the series,