DENVER — Superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon played 27:01 for the Avalanche on Wednesday. And J.T. Comher (24:35) and Mikko Rantanen (23:35) were not far behind. Despite their top forwards playing big minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Seattle Kraken that ended in regulation, head coach Jared Bednar feels he had no choice.

The issue with the Avalanche nearly all season has been their lack of depth. Be it the guys they lost in the summer, the unexpected absence of captain Gabriel Landeskog all season, or the obnoxious amount of injuries they’ve dealt with. The story of their season has been relying on MacKinnon and Rantanen to do too much. Now, on the brink of elimination heading back to Climate Pledge Arena, Colorado has to find a way to muster two consecutive wins or its season will end in Round 1 for the first time since 2018. And the way to do it will likely be by shortening the bench once again. Something that has become a necessity as of late.

“If guys are really going and on their game then we don’t necessarily have to shorten our bench,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “We’ve got some guys that aren’t getting a lot done and you’re playing tight games and you’re playing from behind so you’re going to go with your horses.”

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Superstar defenseman Cale Makar, whose return is imminent in Game 6 after serving his one-game suspension for hitting and injuring Jared McCann on Monday, has also been relied on heavily all season. He led the NHL in average time on ice in the regular season and has been relied upon to play big minutes against the dangerous and tenacious Kraken.

The Avs have scored 14 goals in this series, and Makar, MacKinnon, and Rantanen have been in on 12 of them. It’s not quite the recipe they used last season to find success. But it’s the hand they’ve been dealt.

“Best player in the world obviously he’s going to help us,” defenseman Devon Toews said of Makar’s return, his usual partner on the blue line. “Puck moving on the back end and power play, you know, offensively so we expect him to play like he does. And I wouldn’t doubt that he won’t.”

Despite the loss in Game 4, the Avs have been a better team on the road all season. In the regular season, they won 28-of-40 games in road buildings but just 21-of-40 at Ball Arena. They also won two games in Finland against the Columbus Blue Jackets. On their last trip to Seattle, they were an overtime goal away from sweeping both games on the road. But instead, they find themselves on the brink of elimination for the first time since 2021. But they don’t seem to be phased by the challenge.

“It’s a challenge for us to go in their barn,” Toews said. “But you know, we’ve loved playing on the road all year long and even going back to last year, we enjoyed it.”

MacKinnon added: “We gotta find a way to bring Game 7 back here and have home ice for Game 7. We’ve been a good road team all season so we got to find a way.”

MacKinnon had a goal and an assist in the losing effort. After Colorado surrendered the first goal to the Kraken for the fifth time in this series, MacKinnon quickly responded just 1:20 later by deflecting Rantanen’s centering feed past goalie Philipp Grubauer. The crowd was back into the game and so were the Avalanche, who had more than a half-game to try and get a lead.

But just over two minutes later, rookie Tye Kartye — who entered the lineup and made his playoff debut to replace McCann — scored to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. The goal came moments after MacKinnon thought he was tripped deep in the Avs zone. No penalty was called, and MacKinnon was stuck behind the play jawing at the official as the Kraken made their way up the ice to set Kartye up for the go-ahead goal.

“I spin and get five feet out on a guy and he takes my feet out and then I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” MacKinnon said. “It’s not 1975, like that’s a trip but it is what it is. I gotta keep my cool there better. I can’t get upset and that’s on me.”

From that moment on, frustrations continued to mount and the Kraken kept control of the game. MacKinnon later drew a penalty with 1:10 remaining in the second period. Colorado was unsuccessful both late in the frame and early in the third on the man advantage. And just 50 seconds after that slashing penalty on Eeli Tolvanen expired, the Kraken added another goal from Yanni Gourde on a shaky rebound let up by Avs netminder Alexandar Georgiev.

It remained 3-1 until a late goal from Evan Rodrigues pulled Colorado back within one with just over three minutes remaining. But it was too little too late.

“Right now it’s just hard to come by for the goals and the finishing aspect,” Toews said. “But we’re getting enough looks to be in these games.”

He continued: “You’ve got a lot of guys trying to step up and fill some minutes here. It’s not easy this time of year. A lot of us have battled for this whole year to get to this point. And you know, our season wasn’t easy for injuries and whatnot. So guys have had to play big minutes. And our top guys are what drive us and they’re carrying us up further now.”

It’s a must-win in Seattle on Sunday. And Bednar isn’t afraid to continue to rely on his top guys, especially MacKinnon.

“Do we get to a point where he runs out of gas? Maybe. But we’re facing elimination so if we gotta play him 30 [minutes], we’ll do it,” he said.