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“He made his decisions” – Longmont Times-Call

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Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nichushkin (13) skates to the bench after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets in the first period during Game 5 of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Canada Life Center in Winnipeg, Canada on Tuesday , April 30, 2024. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Jack Johnson couldn’t hide his frustration.

Fresh off a 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars that put this Avalanche season that started with championship aspirations on the brink, the veteran defenseman didn’t hold back as well as some of his teammates.

The Avs were without Valeri Nichushkin, the team’s leading scorer this postseason, in Game 4 against the Stars. They will have to make do without him for at least six months after the NHL and NHLPA announced shortly before the game that Nichushkin had been placed in Phase 3 of the player assistance program.

“He made his decisions,” Johnson said. “That’s all I’m going to say about that. He made his decisions.”

Nichushkin’s participation in Phase 3 of the program was the result of a violation of the terms of his Phase 2 treatment. The league or players’ association has not revealed what the violation was that led to Nichushkin being accepted into Phase 3. His participation in Phase 2 stems from his time in the program during the regular season, when he missed nearly two months but still finished . with career highs in goals (28) and points (53) in just 54 games played.

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

“It can (deflate a team), but you know we’re all human. We are all pros,” Avs forward Jonathan Drouin said. “It’s those things… you have no control over them. You can’t really think about it, you can’t really think about it. When we heard the news, we, like everyone else, were shocked. And of course it sucks, but I know we had to move on and get ready for a game.”

Bednar said his team looked frozen in the first period. The Stars took a 3-0 lead 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 Avalanche’s potent attack by creating a flurry of excellent opportunities that they were eager to feed off.

This is the second straight postseason where Nichushkin’s absence has cast a shadow 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. Val is clearly struggling with something,” Bednar said when asked how much Nichushkin has let the team down. “I’m in two minds. Yeah, it sucks for our team. We need to turn the page. We have to play much better than today. There are still more than 20 guys in that room who care and want to win and are here. That’s what we need to focus on. It hurts our team. There is no doubt. He’s a great player.

“And the second thing is that I got to know Val as a person and I got to know him as one of our teammates and I want the 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 the best for him and his family. … Val is a big priority. And our team is another one. Now they are divorced. They are not together.”

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

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

Colorado Avalanche right Valeri Nichushkin (13) reacts moments after scoring in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, April 18, 2024, at Ball Arena in Denver.  Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brett Kulak (27) skates by.  (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Colorado Avalanche right Valeri Nichushkin (13) reacts moments after scoring in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, April 18, 2024, at Ball Arena in Denver. Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brett Kulak (27) skates by. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Avs don’t have much time to regroup this year. It has to happen on Wednesday evening.

“There’s no question about what happened to them behind the scenes tonight. They were a little awkward and rightfully so,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. “I’m sure they will regroup and I’m sure they won’t go down quietly. We expect the next match to be the most difficult to win.”

When asked if the two entities he was talking about – Nichushkin and his team – could ever get back together, Bednar was also efficient in his words.

“I have no idea,” he said.

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