Kiszla: For Avalanche, the Presidents’ Trophy is not a curse. It’s essential to team’s quest for Stanley Cup. – The Denver Post

Raise a glass. Let’s offer a toast:

Stanley Cup or bust!

These Avs are so fast, so skilled and so deep that anything less than showering in champagne after the upcoming NHL playoffs will leave a bitter taste. Watching Colorado rout the Los Angeles Kings 6-0 Wednesday, it was difficult to believe there’s a better team anywhere in the league.

Twenty long years after Joe Sakic handed the Cup to Raymond Bourque, isn’t it about time? It’s time for Nate MacKinnon and these boys in burgundy to make championship memories for a new generation of hockey fans in the Rocky Mountain West.

Nate who?

Nursing an injury and resting for the long playoff run ahead, MacKinnon didn’t dress Wednesday night. Not that the Avs needed him, with J.T. “The Lamplighter” Compher on fire against the Kings, collecting a hat trick. It delighted the home crowd scattered at a safe social distance throughout Ball Arena, which was turned into Denver’s hippest, happiest karaoke bar during the third period, as fans joined in a huge group sing-along of “All the Small Things” by Blink-182.

No offense to Tom Brady or LeBron James, but the best playoffs in North American sports are played on ice. Sorry, my football and basketball-loving friends, but it’s not even close. The NHL postseason is a heady mixture of blood, acrimony and weirdness inspired by a goalie standing on his head, eh?

Home ice is where the heart breaks, often for a team that has worked all winter long to earn it. In these COVID-19 times, when pandemic anxiety lingers in every empty seat of barns throughout the league, maybe winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the No. 1 regular-season team won’t mean much.  What’s more, if you believe league lore, the Presidents’ Trophy is a jinx, or maybe a curse of unfulfilled expectations, come playoff time.

Well, Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog respectfully disagrees with all that nonsense.

The goal from the outset of training camp was to fashion the best record in the league, which would allow Colorado to open every series and play any Game 7 at home. “And here we are, one step away from doing that,” Landeskog said.

But I say the Avs absolutely, positively need to beat the lowly Kings again Thursday night and claim home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs if they want to win the championship in 2021. A bit overstated? Perhaps. But I would strongly advise against Colorado attempting to disprove my little theory.

By beating L.A. again, Colorado can steal the top spot in the West division from Vegas during the 56th and final game of this abbreviated regular season. The achievement would earn the Avalanche the pleasure of playing St. Louis in the opening round of the playoffs. That’s a sweep waiting to happen.

OK, maybe it would require five games to dispose of the Blues. But it’s definitely the easiest path for MacKinnon and the boys to get rolling on what’s always a long and winding road to the Cup.

The Kings look as if they’ve already hung up their skates and grabbed their fishing poles for summer at the lake house. Could the Avs take L.A. for granted and lose the final regular-season game against a team that’s already checked out? Please, don’t even think about it.

Suffer a loss to the Kings and Colorado falls into a first-round series against Minnesota. That’s an upset waiting to happen, because 23-year-old Kirill “The Thrill” Kaprizov and the Wild are sneaky good.

While the Cup will be won with scrums in the crease and gritty road victories, the Avalanche can show its championship mettle in the final regular-season game against Los Angeles, by showing no mercy against a foe that will quit if encouraged to tap out and go home.

Do the Avs have the killer instinct of a champion?

With brutal playoff battles ahead, let there be no doubt.

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