Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon.

(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Martin/Colorado Avalanche)
The Colorado Avalanche have surprised the NHL all year, and fans hope those surprises will continue when the team opens the playoffs Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.

Coming off a season where the Avalanche finished last in the Western Conference, even many of the team's diehard fans didn't expect the Avalanche would capture a division title in 2014.  But they did just that, and they are the second seed in the Western Conference heading into the postseason.

First-year coach Patrick Roy gets a lot of credit for the turnaround. He played for the Avalanche for seven and a half years before retiring in 2001, after earning four Stanley Cup championships. He coached in Canada for several years before moving to the NHL.

In his first game at the helm last October, Roy set the tone for the team by trying to knock down a partition between the two coaching benches so he could argue with Mighty Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau. His players said that proved he would fight for them.

Associated Press sportswriter Patrick Graham, who covers the Avalanche, says Roy has empowered the players by inviting them into a partnership.

"He knows when to get on guys and when not to," Graham says, adding that Roy has brought to the coaching job his fiery attitude on display during his playing days.

Roy and the Avalanche play the Wild at home on Thursday in the first game of their best of seven series.