May 21, 2024

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Avalanche reacts to Valery Nishushkin news: ‘He has made his decisions’

Avalanche reacts to Valery Nishushkin news: ‘He has made his decisions’

Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nishushkin (13) and Zach Parise (9) take the ice to warm up before Game 3 of the second round of the 2024 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Dallas Stars in Denver on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Photo by Andy Cross/Denver Post )

Jack Johnson couldn’t hide his frustration.

After a 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars put this Avalanche season that began with championship aspirations on the brink, the veteran defenseman didn’t back down like some of his teammates.

The Avs were without Valeri Nichushkin, the team’s leading scorer this season, for Game 4 against the Stars. They will be without him for at least six months after the NHL and NHLPA announced just before this contest that Nichushkin had been placed in Phase 3 of the Player Assistance Program.

“He made his decisions,” Johnson said. “That’s all I’ll say about that. He’s made up his mind.”

Nichushkin’s entry into the third phase of the program was the result of a violation of the conditions of his treatment in the second phase. That stems from his time with the program during the regular season, when he missed nearly two months but finished with career highs in goals (28) and points (53) in just 54 games.

Avs coach Jared Bednar said he found out the news after the team’s morning skate on Monday. The few players who were still in Ball Arena during the afternoon found out early, but Bednar gathered the team to deliver the news after everyone had arrived for Game 4.

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“It can (empty a team) but you know we’re all human beings. We’re all professionals,” Avs forward Jonathan Drouin said. “It’s those things… you can’t control it. You can’t really think about it, you can’t really think about it. When we heard the news, we were shocked, like everyone else. Obviously it sucks but I know we had to move on and prepare for the game.

Bednar said his team seemed frozen in the first half. The Stars led 3-0 and at one point the shots on target were 22-4 in favor of the visitors.

Colorado made a late push, but Dallas continued to limit the powerful Avalanche offense from creating a flurry of excellent opportunities that they would like to capitalize on.

This is the second straight postseason in which Nichushkin’s absence has cast a pall over the Avs. He missed the final five games of the club’s first-round loss to the Seattle Kraken last spring after leaving the team for what the club called “personal reasons.” A Seattle police report later revealed that an intoxicated woman was found in Nichushkin’s hotel room the morning before Game 3 of that series in Seattle.

“I’m not going there. It’s clear that Val is going through something,” Bednar said when asked about how much Nichushkin has let the team down. “I have two thoughts. Yes it’s bad for our team we have to turn the page. We have to play better than we did today. There are still over 20 players in that room that care and want to win and they are here. This is what we have to focus on. It hurts our team. there is no doubt. He’s a great player.

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“The second thing is I’ve gotten to know Val as a person and I’ve gotten to know him as one of our teammates and I want what’s best for him. I want him to be happy and I want him to be satisfied in his life, whether it’s with our team or not with our team. I want what’s best for him and his family. … Val is a priority.” Big, and our team is another team now they are not together.”

The Avs started this season as one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. They looked that way after dismantling the Winnipeg Jets in five games to start the postseason.

Nichushkin was a big part of that, scoring seven goals in the series. Now the Avs will go to Texas and try to salvage their season. Colorado lost its first two games without Nichushkin last year to Seattle, managed to win Game 6 on the road, then fell in Game 7.