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Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche salutes the crowd after his team clinched a wild card spot against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center on April, 7, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. The Avs defeated the Blues 5-2. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
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Evans: Man, it feels good to have the Avs back in the playoffs again

Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche salutes the crowd after his team clinched a wild card spot against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center on April, 7, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. The Avs defeated the Blues 5-2. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Boy, it’s been a long time coming.

For the first time in the past four years — and, even more depressing, only the third time in the past decade — the Colorado Avalanche will compete in the playoffs.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround season, improving from 48 points in 2016-17 to 95 this year.

How did it happen? Let me count the ways:

Sticking with the coach

It would’ve been easy to get rid of head coach of Jared Bednar. The losing was so bad last year it would’ve been easy to deem Bednar toxic.

NHL analyst Barry Melrose made an excellent point when he joined Mark Schlereth and me this week, that throughout all the losing the Avs players never quit on Bednar.

There was never a sense the team was trying to get him fired. General manager Joe Sakic obviously saw the same thing and decided Bednar was still capable of coaching this team.

That continuity proved to be important.

The Matt Duchene trade

I have to admit to enjoying the “I told you so” nature of this.

For at least three years I’ve been calling for Colorado to deal Duchene. Avs fan boys said I was nuts.

Duchene was a superstar, but this trade proved to be the ultimate “addition by subtraction” move.

Colorado dumped this overrated, pouty “talent, and the remaining Avs players, reborn, took ownership of the team and flourished

Let this be a reminder that when I feel this strongly about something … listen to me.

The emergence of Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon’s emergence was likely tied to Duchene’s departure. He took on the responsibility of being “the man,” and man did he respond.

Carrying the team for stretches, MacKinnon played at a Hart Trophy level. He’s possibly the first bona fide superstar for this team since the glory days of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and company.

But the next step is a big one.

Prolific regular seasons are nice. However, the bar around here is set higher. Avs fans know true greatness is measured by what you do in the postseason.

The only time MacKinnon played in the postseason he was a rookie with low expectations. Now he’s “the man” who needs to deliver.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier

It was eye-rolling time for me when folks mourned the departure of Calvin Pickard.

Please.

The addition of Jonathan Bernier was a masterstroke by Sakic. The Avs aren’t here without Bernier, a highly-touted goalie prospect who bounced around and had some success and found a niche in Colorado.

He was the goalie of record when the Avalanche ripped off that 10-game winning streak at the start of the new year, which propelled the team into legitimate playoff contention.

Bernier’s proven to be an excellent alternative to the unreliable Semyon Varlamov.

The kids were alright

Several of Colorado’s highly-touted prospects grew very well on the job: Mikko Rantanen, Alexander Kerfoot, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Samuel Girard, and Anton Lindholm — all between the ages of 19 and 23.

Whatever happens in this first round series with the Nashville Predators, they’ll gain valuable experience that, hopefully, makes them part of the core of the next great Avalanche team.

Avs veteran leadership

It’s too bad Erik Johnson has battled the injury bug. For years he struggled to live up to the billing of being the No. 1-overall pick in the NHL Draft.

While he will never play to that level, he’s become a very solid player and an exceptional leader.

Gabe Landeskog should never have been named a captain at such a young age, but now he’s a bona fide one. Add in a Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, and the Avs have a decent group of leaders.

Playoff hockey around here used to be pretty special. It hasn’t been that way for a long time.

It’s good to have it back.