Moments after a devastating overtime loss on Wednesday, Nathan MacKinnon described the prospect of going to St. Louis for Game 6 as “a huge challenge,” but said he and his teammates were thrilled. The Avalanche still have two chances to get the only win needed to send them to the Western Conference final, the first of which is on Friday.
None of this makes the team’s Game 5 collapse any more understandable, but MacKinnon believes the Avalanche can learn from it. And they will need it or the loss could haunt them for a long time.
“That should make our team a little tougher, a little tougher in those situations,” MacKinnon said.
There were plenty of ominous signs for the Avalanche in Game 5, which saw them lose a 3-0 second-half lead and a 4-3 lead with less than a minute left in regulation time. But there was also reason to believe Colorado could still beat the Blues.
Let’s review five of each.
Cause for concern: Darcy Kuemper’s game
The Avalanche sacrificed a lot to acquire Kuemper, sending a first-round pick and Conor Timmins to Arizona this summer in exchange for the goaltender. And while Kuemper was a bright spot for the Avalanche in the regular season, he had his worst game of the playoffs against St. Louis in Game 5, at least by the goals-against-above-expectations metric. Evolving-Hockey. He allowed 1.82 more goals than expected, according to the site, and coughed up expensive rebounds. In a game decided in overtime, it will come back to bite you.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar acknowledged Kuemper’s tough night, but said he was far from the only Avalanche player to perform poorly.
“You can put him in our team,” the coach said. “We weren’t good enough, especially in the third period.
Kuemper has a negative GSAx in four of five games in this series. It’s a problematic trend and he’ll have to correct it if Colorado becomes a champion team. But that doesn’t shake Bednar’s belief that he’s the team’s best chance to win, which makes sense given his success for most of the season. When asked if he would consider going with substitute Pavel Francouz in Game 6, Bednar answered simply.
Reason for optimism: Playoff Nathan MacKinnon
MacKinnon did just about everything in his power to ensure Colorado came away with a win on Wednesday. He had four points, a hat trick and arguably the best goal of the entire postseason. The Blues had limited the Colorado star to three assists in the first four games of the series, but Game 5 saw him find some rhythm. Saint-Louis had no answer. And although MacKinnon was disappointed after Wednesday’s loss, he projected confidence.
“We have to continue our game and stay aggressive,” he said. “That’s what we’ll do on Friday.”
MacKinnon has a career-high 82 playoff points in 59 games. He broke the 80-point barrier in Game 5, tying Sidney Crosby for the fourth-fewest games needed to reach the mark. Only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jari Kurri reached 80 points faster.
Nathan MacKinnon just did. Green light objective to succeed the hat trick 🥵 pic.twitter.com/tSP4VvmeYg
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 26, 2022
Reason for concern: Robert Thomas launches
Thomas, 22, had a solid season for St. Louis, recording 77 points in 72 games. But he hadn’t found his game at the start of these playoffs, failing to score in the Blues’ first 10 games and getting just three assists.
That all changed in the third period of Game 5. Thomas scored twice, including the equalizer with 56 seconds left. Vladimir Tarasenko also scored. The Avalanche previously eliminated both players, but if they go for the Blues, St. Louis is much harder to beat.
Reason for optimism: Improved outnumbered (at least four against five)
Colorado went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill Wednesday, a big improvement from Game 4, which saw the Blues score two power-play goals in the second period. Bednar said the team made adjustments at intermission that night, and those adjustments appeared to have worked.
“The PK knew we had to be better,” said Darren Helm, who played nearly four minutes shorthanded Wednesday. “I watched a bit more video and prepared a bit differently. Guys go all out, sacrifice their bodies, block shots. That’s what we need to go forward.”
That said, Colorado struggled when the Blues pulled their goaltender, failing to get the puck out of the defensive zone at five-on-six, which led to Thomas scoring the tying goal.
Reason for concern: inability to store games
Colorado had a three-goal lead in Game 4, but allowed the Blues to cut it to one before the third period. Even in Game 1, which the Avalanche won in overtime, Colorado couldn’t finish a plethora of scoring opportunities and beat the Blues in regulation.
Then there was Wednesday’s meltdown. Whether it’s getting away from their game or the Blues making pushes, Colorado’s inability to put games away is why the streak continues.
Reason for optimism: Success on the road these playoffs
The Avalanche have been a strong team on the road this postseason, winning all four of their games away from the Ball Arena. Coaches who changed back lines at home might also matter less than in other series, given that Bednar and Blues coach Craig Berube have, for the most part, played their best lines one against the other. ‘other.
“It’s in the past, but obviously we had success there,” MacKinnon said of playing in St. Louis. “We definitely need a better effort for a full 60.”
Reason for concern: the absence of Samuel Girard
Girard broke his sternum after taking a hit from Ivan Barbashev in Game 3. He’s out for the playoffs, and that’s having a ripple effect on the entire roster. Jack Johnson must now take part of the 20 minutes per game that Girard was playing, and although he made a strong playoff debut for the Avalanche in Game 4, he was rated minus-1 in Game 5. and the Avalanche generated just 38.16 percent of expected. shares goals with him on the ice at five against five, per Natural Stat Trick. He also played five minutes less than the next closest defender, which doesn’t project Bednar’s confidence.
Bowen Byram, meanwhile, has looked good with more responsibility. The Avalanche generated almost 80 percent of the expected goals while he was on the ice.
Reason for optimism: good after losses
Colorado is keen not to lose two games in a row. For the most part this season, the team has managed to avoid it.
After a three-game losing streak at the start of the season in October, Colorado has lost more than one game in a row only five times this season. Two of those opportunities came in the past month as the Avalanche rested players in preparation for the playoffs. Girard aside, Colorado puts together a healthy roster, and a team with that level of talent shouldn’t lose three in a row.
Reason for concern: experience
The Blues know how to win. A good chunk of their roster won the Stanley Cup in 2019, but even some of their other additions have championship pedigree. Deadline’s acquisition Nick Leddy won the Cup with Chicago, as did Brandon Saad. So when they had their backs against the wall in Game 5, they didn’t flinch. This will make them difficult to eliminate.
Reason for optimism: Colorado was the better team
This statement applies to both the regular season and the playoffs. The Avalanche finished 10 points higher in the regular season in the standings, and they dominated St. Louis for most of that series. The Avalanche were leading 3-2, after all.
Check out these five-on-five numbers, all via Natural Stat Trick:
- Colorado has 57.74% of expected goal share
- Colorado had 61.84% chances to score
- Colorado had a 59.74% chance to score at high risk
Basically, if the Avalanche play like they have in the first five games, they can eliminate St. Louis. If their game goes off the rails, that’s where things could get dicey, as the match 5 collapse shows.
(Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)