Call it a tough break, a gut punch or a choke job. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is the Avalanche are facing elimination heading into a hostile T-Mobile Arena for Game 6 after losing three consecutive games to the high-flying Vegas Golden Knights.
Just like they did in the series, the Avs blew a 2-0 lead in Game 5 — often considered the worst lead in hockey — to fall behind 3-2 in overtime and the series. And with this loss coming at Ball Arena, have relinquished home-ice advantage in the process.
Can they rebound? maybe. But it’s going to take a full 60-minute effort. Because 40 minutes, or as Avs coach Jared Bednar called it, “a bad 10 seconds in the third period” can wash away a two-goal lead in a flash.
“We lost one at home now we gotta go into Vegas and win one and bring it home for Game 7,” said Avs captain Gabe Landeskog.
Easier said that done. The Golden Knights stymied the Avalanche in a way they hadn’t seen all season in both Games 3 and 4 at T-Mobile Arena last week. They outshot Colorado by a combined 40 shots and watched as the Avs’ star players failed to generate much of anything.
“Good teams find a way.” Avs forward Logan O’Connor said after returning to the lineup for the first time since March 31.
They sure do. Just like Vegas has after dropping the first two games of this series.
It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a grind. But if the Avalanche want yet another crack at a second round Game 7 matchup at Ball Arena on Saturday, they’ll have to go into Vegas and steal a win on the road. Just like Mark Stone and his Knights did Thursday.
Here are five players that can help make that hypothetical a reality.
The Deen’s List:
This one’s easy. Very easy. Because the Avalanche’s superstar center and early favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy just a week ago has suddenly gone missing for the third consecutive game.
MacKinnon started the playoffs with eight goals in five games after an unstoppable showing in the first round and in the opening game of this series. But since then, he has zero points and just nine shots.
Good teams need depth to win. Great teams use that depth and have their top guns step up when they’re needed. This is MacKinnon’s time to shine.
He was demoted from the top line Thursday after Bednar shuffled the lineup and replaced by the suddenly hot Brandon Saad.
The fire Landeskog showed against St. Louis, the energy he brought in Game 1 and much of Game 2 has since been extinguished.
The Avalanche need their captain more than ever. Whether on the scoresheet or on the front lines on this juggernaut battle. Even more so after Vegas’ captain, Mark Stone, worked his tail off on the final play of the game to score the game-winning goal with his gas tank on empty.
That’s what captains do.
He doesn’t play big minutes but he’s a factor in the sense that pucks die on his stick. At least that’s what it looked like on Tuesday.
Not only did Graves struggle on two of Vegas’ goals, but he also had a number of chances to score and instead shot the puck into an opposing player. His inability to get the puck to the net hurt the Avs.
If Vegas smells blood — or nerves — in Graves’ defensive game on Thursday, they’ll look to take advantage.
Turnover notwithstanding, forward Andre Burakovsky has struggled mightily. When you account for the turnover it’s about the worst game he’s had since joining the Avalanche.
Burakovsky was unable to get the puck out of the zone and it led to Vegas’ opening goal just 1:03 into the third period. He also failed to record a shot and has just three shots in five games in the series.
To make matters worse, Burakovsky has yet to score this postseason and has just three assists. The 2020 Burakovsky, who was a stud in the Edmonton playoff bubble, is what the Avs need.
Clean up the turnovers and lets see more of that finesse Burky shot.
He hasn’t had a terrible series by any means but he’s got more. A lot more.
Makar is of the best defenseman in the NHL. But he has not pitched in much offensively since his four-point outburst in Game 1. Makar has two assists during this three-game slide and like the rest of the Avalanche’s top weapons, has not had many good looks at the goal.
Things need to change in Game 6 to bring it back home for a winner-take-all matchup. All they need is a couple of Makar-MacKinnon powerhouse connections to get them there.