DENVER -- The Stanley Cup playoffs are supposed to be a grind. They're a place young teams are supposed to get chewed up and spit out in a learning process that, years later, they can reference when they win something meaningful.
It's why you tempered your expectations for a young team like the Colorado Avalanche and its 18-year-old star, Nathan MacKinnon. Sure, his speed puts him among a class of the league's elite, but this is the playoffs -- the place for big, banging wingers and dirty goals that take multiple shots, second efforts and traffic in front of the goalie.
Well, for one night in Denver, that's not what the playoffs looked like.
For one night, speed and talent and passing and creativity won out. The young Avalanche beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 to open a 2-0 series lead. It was the teenager MacKinnon leading the way, like he woke up Saturday morning and decided he was going to be the best player in the postseason.
That's exactly what he looked like for stretches during the Avalanche win.
"He's unbelievable," Colorado center Paul Stastny said. "Every time something happens, it doesn't surprise us."
Still, he's 18 years old. Eighteen. When Stastny was 18 years old, he was in college, trying to get rid of baby fat.
"Not making any money. I was spending my parents money," he said, smiling. "To be 18 again."
The NHL postseason hasn't seen anything like this in awhile. With four points against the Wild, MacKinnon now has seven career playoff points. He's already among the top-10-scoring 18-year-olds in NHL postseason history. He's played two games.
About the only indication after the game that this was all a huge thrill for him was admitting to watching the replay of his first NHL postseason goal on the giant Pepsi Center scoreboard.
"We were making a change. I had an excuse for looking," he said. Otherwise, he kept his composure, saying that in order to have consistency in the playoffs, he'll need a short memory. That first playoff goal, though? He'll remember that one for awhile.
He got the puck as he entered the neutral zone, blew past Mikko Koivu at center ice and was flying into the offensive zone when he shifted to the right, spinning defenseman Marco Scandella to the ice. He fired a shot that beat Ilya Bryzgalov and erased an early 1-0 Minnesota lead.
His speed was just as lethal in setting up the next two goals of the game, goals the Wild would never recover from.
On the first of two Gabriel Landeskog goals, MacKinnon got the puck near center ice and flew straight in on Ryan Suter, who gave up just enough room for MacKinnon to find a teammate. He dropped the puck back for Landeskog, who beat Bryzgalov for his second goal of this postseason.
"I just wanted [Suter] to turn his feet and see what happened from there," MacKinnon said. "Gabe was yelling for it. I don't have eyes in the back of my head -- he made a good play by screaming for it. I'd say he's not missing from there, but it was a heck of a shot."
Nine minutes later, all three players on the dominant MacKinnon-Stastny-Landeskog line showed off their skills.
MacKinnon sped the puck up the wall and backhanded the puck to Stastny, who twirled a pass to a gliding-in Landeskog. Landeskog buried it before a stretched Bryzgalov could make the save.