Avalanche reacts to Valeri Nichushkin news: “He made his decisions”

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Jack Johnson could not hide his frustration.

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

The Avs were without Valeri Nichushkin, the team’s leading goal scorer in this postseason, in Game 4 against the Stars. They’re going to be without him for at least six months after the NHL and NHLPA announced just before this contest that Nichushkin had been placed in Stage 3 of the player assistance program.

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

Nichushkin’s entry into Stage 3 of the program was the result of a violation of the terms of his Stage 2 treatment. That 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 found out the news after the team’s morning skate Monday. A few of the players who were still at Ball Arena during the afternoon found out early, but Bednar gathered the team to deliver the news after everyone had arrived for Game 4.

“It can (deflate a team) but you know we’re all human. We’re all pros,” Avs forward Jonathan Drouin said. “It’s that stuff … you don’t control it. You can’t really dwell on it, you can’t really think about it. When we heard the news we, kind of like everyone else, we were shocked. And obviously 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 grabbed a 3-0 lead and at one point the shots on goal were 22-4 in favor of the visitors.

Colorado did make a late push, but Dallas continued to limit the Avalanche’s high-powered offense from creating the flurry of excellent chances that they like to feed off of.

This is the second postseason in a row where Nichushkin’s absence 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 he left the team for what the club termed “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 gonna go there. Val is obviously struggling with something,” Bednar said when asked how much Nichushkin let the team down. “I have two thoughts. Yeah, it sucks for our team. We’ve got to turn the page. We’ve got to go play way better than we did today. There’s still 20-plus guys in that room that care and want to win and that are here. That’s what we have to focus on. It hurts our team. There’s no question. He’s a great player.

“And the second one 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 content in his life, whether that is 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 separated. They’re not together.”

The Avs began began this season as one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. They looked like it 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 will go to Texas and try to save their season. Colorado lost the first two games without Nichushkin last year vs. Seattle, rallied to win Game 6 on the road, then fell flat in Game 7.

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