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Hampered by injuries, slow start Avalanche miss playoffs for 4th time in 5 seasons

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DENVER — Patrick Roy's beard, spotted with copious amounts of gray, is in full playoff mode.

That's unlike his team as the Colorado Avalanche missed the postseason for a fourth time in five seasons.

A year ago, the Avs were the buzz of the NHL with a young, fast squad and one of the top goaltenders in the league. They tied a franchise record with 52 wins and captured the Central Division crown, before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs.

Big things were expected in Year 2 under Roy. No longer a surprise, though, Colorado simply couldn't duplicate that level of success. A slow start hurt early and injuries piled up late, including the loss of teenager Nathan MacKinnon to a broken foot.

Still, they finished up the season 17-9-1, so that's at least something to take into the offseason, right?

"I'm here to win the Stanley Cup," Roy said. "So it's a disappointment. We're all disappointed about our situation. At the same time, I like to think we'll benefit from it."

That's what they're banking on, anyway. General manager Joe Sakic isn't planning on any major changes to the roster, just some tweaks here and there.

He likes this youthful nucleus that includes MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, captain Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly, a player Sakic hopes to work out a long-term deal with in the offseason.

Sakic knew that replicating the 2013-14 season would be a challenge after amassing 112 points. Still, he thinks they're better than the 90 points they accrued this season.

"Is next year a test? You better believe it," Sakic said. "We went through the learning process this year. It's time for them to step up with consistency and become that team. Expectation level has to be there right from the start."

PHOTO: Colorado Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla (12) celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks with teammates, including Zach Redmond (22), during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Colorado Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla (12) celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks with teammates, including Zach Redmond (22), during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

This is the takeaway for the Avs — a slow start will doom a team. With goaltender Semyon Varlamov dealing with a nagging groin injury early in the season, the Avalanche struggled. They were 12-13-8 through mid-December.

"You can't dig yourself a hole," Alex Tanguay said. "It's very rare, the team that comes back after digging yourself that tough of hole. We'll reflect on that.

"I mean, this team took a great stride last year. This year, although it doesn't look like it now, in the long run, it might be beneficial to realize how much it (stinks) to miss the playoffs."

No team wants to use injuries as an excuse, convenient as it may be. But Colorado finished with 495 man-games lost due to injury, the most in franchise history.

The previous high was 474 in 2010-11. Those sidelined included key contributors, too, such as MacKinnon, who went out in early March, and top defenseman Erik Johnson, who made his first All-Star team but couldn't play because of a knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

"That is a part of hockey," said defenseman Jan Hejda, whose contract expires this summer, but hopes to be back next season. "Not too many hockey players that have never had injuries. We have a team that is good enough to play without some key guys.

"This year, we played the whole season under pressure. Last year, we didn't."

The bright spot of the season had to be the play of 37-year-old Jarome Iginla, who scored 29 goals this season. He's the oldest player in franchise history to lead the team in goals, nine days older than when Sakic accomplished the feat in 2006-07.

"The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but first you have to get to the playoffs and have that chance to play for it," said Iginla, who signed a three-year, $16 million deal last summer. "It's the best time of year to play, to be an NHL hockey player.

"As tough as it is this year being out, I'm still very excited about this group. I think we've learned a lot. We've grown a lot."

Sakic couldn't agree more.

"I know as a player firsthand, when you're going through tough times, it's tough. But they've overcome it," Sakic said. "Going through that, I believe 100 percent that by overcoming that, it will make them better players."

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