So what did Game 3 do to change expectations in the Predators-Avalanche series Monday night?
Not much, if you considered — as most reasonable folks did — the Avalanche getting at least one win at home in Games 3 and 4 against the Presidents’ Trophy winners to be likely or even inevitable.
MacKinnon, with two goals, again was truly electric and Gabe Landeskog truly led.
The Carl Soderberg-centered third line — as it surprisingly has been much of the season — was the catalyst.
Bernier’s numbers in the series — a 3.72 goals-against and an .883 save percentage — are awful, but in the postseason, the sample size is small and the slate starts fresh each night. Short memories are required and Patrick Roy was as good as anyone at using the bad postseason nights as motivation for the next game, and not allowing it to become a slump or a trend.
Bernier also has been the victim of bad bounces, but that’s also inevitable. He also wondered why Nashville’s third goal in Game 3 — from Austin Watson with 1:15 remaining — stood up through a video review.
“What was the call on the third?” he asked me. “The third one, I couldn’t even move, so I don’t know what’s goalie interference anymore.”
The Avalanche held serve, it was a terrifically entertaining night and the series moves on, to Game 4 Wednesday. It’s a chance to even up the series before it moves back to Nashville for Game 5.
Even in the Avalanche’s glory years, the playoff path was rarely easy, with the only sweeps in the Cup years the 1996 Finals against the Panthers and the 2001 first round against the Canucks. The favored Preds aren’t panicking over this one, either, as they seek to take the next step after making the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago … as the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed.
Before going any farther, let’s dispense with something being tossed around in the wake of the Avalanche’s win.
Did you hear that Pepsi Center crowd? The crowd was great! The crowd made a difference!
OK. points conceded.
But the additional implication or assertion that it was stunningly extraordinary displays ignorance of what playoff hockey is. I’m not tossing out a strawman argument here, either, because that’s truly what we were hearing during and after the game.
That’s one of the great things about the NHL playoffs. And the NBA playoffs, too.
The crowds are pumped, they’re into it, they provide a dose of adrenaline for the home teams. Most notable and pertinent here, that’s the case for Games 3, even if — as most often happens — the home team is down 2-0 in the series. There’s still hope. The decibel level is high.
Yet inevitably members of the media will make the rounds in the dressing room after a home team win, asking the players about the impact of the crowd and fighting to be the one to ask the coach about the wondrous fans.
They’re not sitting on their hands in Nashville.
So what now?
Momentum has not swung. It’s apparent the Avs belong on the same ice with the Preds, but anything else in an anything-can-happen postseason — that’s the major advantage the NHL has over the NBA — would have been surprising. The two losses at Nashville were tantalizing because of the what-ifs, the bounces, the could-have-beens. But again, that’s what playoff hockey almost always is. Except for the rare absolute mismatch, the losing team walks through the handshake grumbling about not taking advantage of the opportunities or the lack of puck luck.
The Avalanche has stayed in the series despite getting only mediocre playoff goaltending from Bernier as the stand-in for Semyon Varlamov. Part of that is that Pekka Rinne hasn’t been great, either. That sets up the storyline: It’s up to one of them to take over this series. The Avalanche’s major shot is to combine playing as it has in the first three games with Bernier not just bailing out his team at opportune times, but stealing a game … or two … or three.
“Those games happen,” Bernier said. “You’re not going out and saying, ‘Tonight, I’m going to steal one.’ I think you just play your game, you stay focused on what you have to do.”
That’s when frustration sets in for a favored team, when the what-do-you-gotta-do headshakes begin.
“I feel pretty good,” Bernier said. “I thought overall my rebound control was good, I felt like my reads were good, I was in position…The forwards are coming back and everyone’s doing their part right now.”
Bernier is playing on a one-year, $2.75-million contract. Varlamov’s deal has one more season to go, and as good as he has been at times in his tenure here, his injury issues can’t be waved off as the Avs look ahead to the 2018-19 situation in the crease.
Bernier can strengthen the argument that he should be brought back, or is deserving of a better deal somewhere else, in the rest of this series … or maybe, just maybe, beyond.
“I don’t think about that, to be honest,” he said. “I’m having fun and enjoying the moment.”
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Terry Frei of the Greeley Tribune writes two commentaries a week for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including the fact-based novel “Olympic Affair,” about 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris and “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” about the landmark 1969 Arkansas-Texas football game and the events swirling around it. His web site is terryfrei.com and his additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are at terryfrei/oncolorado.
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