Special teams lead the way in Colorado’s Game 3 victory over the Flames

Apr 15, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing Matt Nieto (83) celebrates his redirect goal with defenseman Ian Cole (28) during the second period against the Calgary Flames during game three of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first two games of the series, the Colorado Avalanche struggled mightily to capitalize on special teams, and the result was a lot of missed scoring opportunities. That all changed in Game 3, though.

Led by Nathan MacKinnon, who opened the floodgates by blasting two power-play goals past Calgary’s goaltender, Mike Smith, in the opening 14 minutes – Colorado’s offense exploded for six goals as the Avs were able to extinguish the Flames.

“We just couldn’t score and had a lot of good looks,”MacKinnon said of his team’s play in the first two games. “Tonight, we probably could have had a couple more.”

After the Avs failed to score on the power play in the first two games in Calgary, finding a way to consistently pressure the Flames was always going to be key on Monday. The Avs responded by peppering Smith with a franchise record 56 shots in regulation, many of which came on the power play.

“We got them when we needed too, and got it to 2-0 and kind of ran away from there,” MacKinnon said.

The power play wasn’t the only part of special teams that clicked on Monday night either. While the penalty kill has now allowed a power play goal in all three games so far, for a second straight night, the Avs were able to break even – largely in part to Matt Nieto, who added his second shorthanded goal of the series.

“To me, the difference in the game was special teams”, Head coach Jared Bednar said postgame.”

Bednar explained how getting the early goals on the power play and a big penalty kill right off the bat, allowed the Avalanche to set the tone in the first period. And from that point on, Colorado continued to build off its momentum,

“All those special situations are the ones that ended up getting us the wins tonight,” Bednar said.

The offense gets most of the attention, and rightfully so in a performance like Monday night’s. However, the penalty kill did a fantastic job of keeping shots to the outside and not allowing Calgary to get high percentage looks from the danger areas on the ice. In total, the Flames were only credited with two shots on net in their five-on-four situations, which is a testament to the Avs skaters disrupting shooting lanes and not allowing clear looks to get through to Philipp Grubauer.

Finally, what made the victory so impressive was that it was a team unit. Sure, the top line thrived. But coming off of a down year, Nieto (2) now has half as many goals in the playoffs as he scored in the regular season, and his speed has been difficult for Calgary to handle. Ian Cole has been a PK specialist as well, using his face to block shots, while also leading odd man rushes.

To be successful in the playoffs, you need contributions from everyone. From the star players on the power play to the guys doing the dirty work on the penalty kill – the Avs got that in Game 3, and hope to continue that the rest of the series.