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  • DENVER (AP) — The speedy Authentic Harrison Smith Jersey , full-tilt pace on the ice remains in place for the Colorado Avalanche.

    Same with that salty attitude to prove they belong.

    Don’t even mention any preseason hype, because they’re not listening. That’s because playing last season with a chip on their shoulder worked so well as they made the postseason for the first time since 2013-14. Colorado will stick with the same sort of demeanor this season .

    “We are trying to prove ourselves,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We’re not guaranteed a playoff spot by any means.”

    Colorado improved by 47 points a season ago, going from 48 in 2016-17 during Jared Bednar’s first season in charge to 95 and earning the eighth seed in the playoffs on their final game of the season. The Avs were eliminated from the postseason by Nashville in six games.

    The youthful squad added more veterans in the offseason by bringing in defenseman Ian Cole and forward Matt Calvert. Still, the fast-skating MacKinnon is putting the brakes on any sort of talk about a deep playoff run. The goal is to play with a sense of urgency — all season long.

    “If we had an off-night, we lost last season,” MacKinnon said. “We’re going to have to be at 100 percent this season to win. Right now we’re just trying to make the playoffs. Hopefully, the playoffs is a given in a couple of years here.”

    The team marches to the beat of the 23-year-old MacKinnon and his fellow linemates — captain Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. They were put together on Oct. 28 and combined for 225 points.

    MacKinnon finished runner-up in the Hart Memorial Trophy race after a season in which he had 39 goals and 58 assists. He wound up second in the NHL in points-per-game (1.31) behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (1.32).

    “He expects to be even better this year,” Bednar said. “His linemates are of a similar mindset.”

    Here are things to know before the Avalanche kick off the season Oct. 4 at home against Minnesota:

    VARLY & GRUBY

    For now, the net belongs to veteran goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who’s returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs. But Philipp Grubauer, who was acquired from Washington in a June trade, is pushing hard for playing time.

    Colorado may need two strong goaltenders, given the injury history of Varlamov.

    “I’ve had some ups and downs in my hockey career. Some big injuries,” Varlamov said. “Hopefully this year will mean Gruby and me will help the team be successful.”

    OLD MAN & HIS D

    Now 30, defenseman Erik Johnson is one of the older players on the team. He averaged a career-high 25:26 of ice time, but was sidelined for the playoffs with a knee injury.

    “I still feel young,” said Johnson, who was the top overall pick by St. Louis in 2006. “Thirty in the NHL is old in the league, but young in life. It’s a different perspective for me to be in. It goes by super-fast.”

    Johnson figures to be paired with 20-year-old Samuel Girard on the blue line this season.

    YOUTH IS SERVED

    Colorado boasted one of the younger teams in the league last season, with 11 different rookies dressing. The team can’t afford any sort of sophomore slump from players such as Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost or Girard.

    “I’m excited to get on the ice and prove to everyone that I have a lot more to offer than I did last year,” said Jost Jake Rudock Jersey , who had 12 goals and 10 assists in 65 games as he dealt with leg and lower-body injuries. “I worked really hard this offseason to elevate my game.”

    PROTECTING HOME

    The noise returned to the Pepsi Center as the fans packed the seats. Colorado won 28 games in its building, which tied the franchise record set by the 2000-01 Stanley Cup squad. The Avs had a run where they won 10 in a row at home.

    HANGING 10

    Varlamov believes a fast start is imperative. Of the opening 10 contests, six are on the road, including a four-game stretch in which they play at the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Carolina and Philadelphia.

    The team began 5-5 last season.

    “We have to play strong and collect the points right away,” Varlamov said. “Because it’s always hard to play catch-up hockey in the NHL. We have to make sure we start the season with a good start.”

    Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green have won NBA titles and never have been known to shy away from conflict on the court.

    Now their combustible convergence in the playoffs is providing a spicy subplot to the Western Conference semifinal series between New Orleans and Golden State.

    ”We’re here to fight,” Rondo said following New Orleans’ lopsided Game 3 victory that trimmed the Warriors‘ series lead to 2-1. ”With my guys on the court, I’m going to fight as hard as I can … and do whatever it takes.”

    Green and Rondo had to be separated after whistles twice in the first three games – never mind some other antics in the flow of the game – and they’ll be back at it again in one of two pivotal Game 4s to be played on Sunday. The other pits Houston against Utah in a series that the Rockets lead 2-1.

    The Rondo-Green sideshow is compelling because of what both players mean to their teams. They are not the type of trash-talking, loud-mouths who otherwise play marginal roles. They are accomplished leaders who produce. Rondo had 21 assists in Game 3, while Green nearly had a triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and nine assist. It just so happens they also are renowned for their masterful command of psychological gamesmanship.

    Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry might have the best perspective; he’s coached them both.

    Gentry was a Warriors assistant on Golden State’s 2015 championship team and maintains a friendly off-court relationship with Green.

    ”If he’s on your team you love him and if he’s not on your team you despise him – and to me, those are the kind of players that I like to have,” Gentry said of Green. ”I appreciate who he is and how he plays because he’s all about winning. And if you’re verbally weak, he’s going to take advantage of that.”

    Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls Green his team’s ”heart and soul,” and its ”engine.” Kerr also added lightheartedly that the fact Green hasn’t been assessed a technical foul in the postseason is ”one of the great stats in this year’s playoffs.”

    Green bristled at the notion that he started any of the dust-ups with Rondo, insinuating that Rondo was the instigator. He asserted that his awareness of Rondo’s intentions is why he hasn’t been suckered into escalations that could result in a technical foul or ejection.

    ”I’m not an idiot,” Green said. ”I can see what they’re trying to accomplish a mile away.”

    Green added: ”At some point, somebody’s got to tell the truth. It ain’t Draymond this time.”

    But Green has been in the face of other Pelicans, tangling with All-Star Anthony Davis behind the play in one instance and yelling at the Pelicans’ bench in another. Green’s antics even agitated TNT studio host and former player Charles Barkley, who said he wanted to punch Green in the face. Barkley later apologized for his word choice, if not his sentiment.

    Pelicans forward Solomon Hill explained that Rondo – accomplished, playoff-savvy veteran that he is – seeks to neutralize Green’s psychological effect by taking on a ”big brother” role for the Pelicans.

    ”If somebody’s yelling in your ear http://www.packersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-josh-jackson-jersey , you’re going to get to a point where it’s about respect,” said Hill, who refers to Rondo by his nickname, Do. ”And that’s kind of where Do is. Do’s like: `We’re going to be respected. You’re not going to come out here and dance around and disrespect us as competitors.”’

    A closer look at Sunday’s games:

    WARRIORS AT PELICANS

    Warriors lead 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC.

    NEED TO KNOW: Although the Warriors lead the series, the Pelicans have not lost at home yet in the playoffs and have improved considerably in each game of this series since losing by 22 in the opener. New Orleans lost by only five points in Game 2 and then won by 19 when the series moved to New Orleans.

    KEEP AN EYE ON: Warriors stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. They combined to miss 36 of 59 shots in Game 3 and will be eager to regain their shooting strokes. ”I still don’t think K.D. or Steph was aggressive enough,” Green said. ”I’ve said to both of them, I need them to be aggressive. They’re our guys. That’s who we’re going to to get buckets. We need them to be aggressive at all times and they’ll be that way” on Sunday.

    INJURY UPDATE: Curry will be in his third game back after missing more than a month with a sprained left knee. Kerr said he wasn’t surprised to see Curry’s production dip in his second game back. ”Game 2 is always the hardest one after you come back from an injury,” Kerr said, adding that ”it just takes some time” for NBA players to regain their energy, legs and rhythm.

    PRESSURE IS ON: The Pelicans, who don’t want to go back to the West Coast down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination. ”We’ve just got to avoid any kind of letdown,” Gentry said, adding that his players ”understand who we’re playing and they understand the situation.”

    ROCKETS AT JAZZ

    Rockets lead 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT, ESPN.

    NEED TO KNOW: Following a surprising home loss in Game 2, the Rockets roared back to life in Game 3, picking apart the Jazz on both ends of the court. A 39-point first quarter put Houston back on track. The Rockets shot 59 percent from the field before halftime and never looked back. ”From the beginning of the game, we made a conscio