ANAHEIM, Calif. — When the St. Louis Blues were in the process of completing their stretch-run collapse with a 3-0 loss to Detroit on Sunday afternoon, Patrick Roy was paying only intermittent attention.
And when that nationally televised game ended and the Avalanche had clinched the Central Division title? Fist pump? Loud cheer? Back slaps?
None of the above, the coach said a little later, before the Avalanche lost 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks in what was transformed into a meaningless regular-season finale at the Honda Center.
The Minnesota Wild, the Avalanche's opponent in a first-round series that begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Denver, was on the Colorado coach's mind.
"It's funny how I am," Roy said. "I was already thinking about Minny. Yes, we're happy winning the division, but at the same time, we knew there was a new challenge in front of us. I always love to look more ahead than behind. I'm having a hard time staying in the present world. I think at the same time, that's what made my career and it's the way I am. Now we know we're going to play against a very good team and it's going to be a nice challenge for us."
The stunners just keep coming.
The Avalanche, in its first season under the rookie NHL coach, already was the league's biggest story of 2013-14 when it was battling Chicago for second place in the division. Then came the 8-0-1 run that, coupled with the Blues' slide, got the Avs back into not only the race for the division title, but even into contention for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference.
Anaheim ended up securing that distinction Saturday, but think of this: Did anyone for a millisecond ponder the possibility on opening night last Oct. 2 that the Anaheim-Colorado matchup — and the dustup between Roy and Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau — would end up involving the top two teams in the Western Conference? Or that the final game of the season would be a pairing of teams that will meet in the conference finals if form holds? (Which, of course, it rarely does in the NHL.)
"Let's not kid ourselves," Roy said. "Did I think we would win the division? The answer is no. Especially when 15 days or 16 days ago, we were like nine points behind the St. Louis Blues. Did I think that would happen? No. But at the same time, I was not trying to think about what would be the end of the season. I always believed we could have a very good year, and you never know where that brings you. But here we are."
Roy's career was defined by several things, including his zealous and ultimately successful quest for the all-time career wins record as an affirmation of consistency, resilience and competitiveness; and his four Stanley Cup championships, fueling his reputation as one of the best "money" goalies of all time. With the Avalanche, he played on eight consecutive division champions.
"To me, it's the most surprising division championship that we have, I guess, in the Avalanche history," Roy said. "No one was expecting us to be where we are, and I certainly would like to give credit to the players, because the players from the first day of training camp have been outstanding."
Although the picture suddenly changed when what seemed to be the inevitable Colorado-Chicago first-round matchup went out the window, and the Avalanche will be favored against the Wild, only a complete loss-of-poise disintegration in the first round would prevent this season from going down as a success. The trick is to find that fine balance, to make that lack of pressure enabling, but not to let it lessen that sharp edge needed in pro sports' most testing postseason.
"I'm not going to say we have accomplished nothing," Roy said. "Going from second-to-last in the NHL to a playoff spot, it's pretty impressive. But what's even more impressive is going from second-to-last in the NHL and last in the division, to win the division — and in a division with teams like Chicago and St. Louis. That's pretty impressive. But at the same time, when the puck drops against Minny, now it's a new task for us. It's a new challenge for us.
"We're a young team, and this is a nice learning process for us, and it's continuing."
Terry Frei: tfrei@ denverpost.com