Before he was thrust into the spotlight ahead of Game 5, Michael Hutchinson’s playoff experience had been limited to the American Hockey League.
The Colorado Avalanche goaltender played 25 Calder Cup games with the Toronto Marlies, St. John’s IceCaps and Providence Bruins. During his three best NHL seasons while with the Winnipeg Jets, Hutchinson wasn’t able to experience the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That lack of experience couldn’t be given consideration by Jared Bednar when he turned to the 30-year-old netminder. Philipp Grubauer, injured in Game 1, isn’t returning anytime soon. Pavel Francouz is also out. Hutchinson went from being a No. 3 with a perch up high in Rogers Place for games to playing a vital role in Colorado’s Second Round series comeback versus the Stars.
Hutchinson entered this series in relief of Francouz in Game 4. After Francouz was deemed “unfit to play” for Game 5, Hutchinson got the start and was given a five-goal first period from his teammates as a welcoming gift during the Avs’ 6-3 win against the Dallas Stars. He followed that up by stopping 27 out of 28 shots to force Friday’s Game 7 (4 p.m. ET, USA Network; livestream).
That victory put Hutchinson in an interesting class. He became the seventh goaltender in NHL playoff to record his first two postseason wins with his team facing elimination. (Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko would become the eighth later that night). The rest of the list includes Jacques Plante, Robbie Moore, Frank Pietrangelo, Wade Flaherty, Manny Fernandez, and Michael Leighton.
Little did Hutchinson or any of us know he would be starting a Game 7 with a conference final berth on the line. But 2020 has thrown us our share of knuckle pucks, right? Getting to this point has been a journey that saw him spend time in the Panthers’ and Maple Leafs’ organizations the past two seasons before being dealt to Colorado in February.
“A lot of hockey is just being in the right place at the right time, and being able to take advantage of certain opportunities that come up,” Hutchinson said. “This whole situation, with the bubble and everything going on, is so absurd and surreal at the same time. I’ve been able to play quite a few NHL games, practice with teams for quite a few years. I’ve always felt like my game was in a place where, if I got an opportunity I could be successful. Now, the guys in front of me, winning these last two games is on them. As a goalie, when you have a team that works that hard in front of you, it makes my job a lot easier.”
Since his days as part of an NHL tandem were put on hold, Hutchinson has been a steady backup wherever he’s gone. The chances to play haven’t been plenty, but seizing an opportunity when presented has been something he’s been prepared to do.
“My career has been a long journey, sent down and called up a bunch of times,” said Hutchinson. “There are always some moments when you get sent down when you think you’re never going to play another NHL game, but those moments, you put them behind you. Just keep working hard and trying to be a good teammate.”
Hutchinson’s coach can relate to his travels. Bednar spent most of his professional playing career in the ECHL before getting into coaching at age 30. His chance to lead an NHL bench didn’t come for 14 years, and it only happened after Patrick Roy’s abrupt resignation in Aug. 2016.
Given his own background, Bednar can relate to Hutchinson’s story.
“I love it,” the Avs coach said. “It’s not just for Hutch, but for all the guys that don’t have an easy path. But they want it. And they stick to it. And they buy into their dream, they invest in themselves and continue to battle to play at the highest level they possibly can, and then they eventually get a chance. There’s value in those players, because they appreciate what they have.
“Playing in the best league in the world, playing this game for a living. You have a healthy respect for what it takes to get here, and when you get here you don’t want to let it go. They tend to give it their all every single night. There are lots of ups and downs in guys’ careers. It’s not an easy league to get to, and certainly not an easy league to stay in. But if you respect the game, and you give it the effort it deserves, you come to appreciate it.
“I couldn’t be more happy for this guy. He’s just a great teammate, a great person. It makes him easy to cheer for.”
No. 2 Avalanche vs. No. 3 Stars (Series tied 3-3)
Stars 5, Avalanche 3 (recap)
Stars 5, Avalanche 2 (recap)
Avalanche 6, Stars 4 (recap)
Stars 5, Avalanche 4 (recap)
Avalanche 6, Stars 3 (recap)
Avalanche 4, Stars 1 (recap)
Game 7: Friday, Sept. 4, 4 p.m. ET – USA Network (livestream)