Struggling Avalanche won’t lose series unless it loses to Vegas at home

by 24USATVJune 9, 2021, 6 a.m. 18
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The Avalanche hasn’t blown it … yet.

Despite being outshot 119-63 and losing Games 3 and 4 handily, the Avs still have a key advantage in what has come down to a mini-series.

A team with home-ice advantage in a seven-game series isn’t truly in trouble until it loses on home ice. Through the first four games of its second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, both teams are 2-0 at home.

Now down to a three-game series, two of those games are scheduled for Ball Arena, where the Avs are 20-0-1 dating to the regular season. That’s where the Avs’ collective heads were at Tuesday ahead of Game 5.

“I think our guys are feeling good about it,” coach Jared Bednar said after the Avs’ morning skate. “They know for a couple games there we just weren’t where we needed to be in a series like this. This is a very difficult team that we’ve played, a team that doesn’t give you a lot of space and they were working and competing in certain areas when we hadn’t sort of entered that fight. Last game we did and I expect us to be even more so tonight at home.”

Bednar shuffled his forward lines for Game 5, dropping left wing Gabe Landeskog to the second line and promoting Brandon Saad (six goals in the playoffs) to the first. He dropped right winger Joonas Donskoi to the fourth line and brought back rookie forward Alex Newhook, who played in Games 1 and 2, on the fourth line. In place of Donskoi on the third line, second-year winger Logan O’Connor — who hasn’t played since March 31 because of a lower-body injury — stepped in to play with Andre Burakovsky and Tyson Jost.

The offensive key for Colorado is to get star center Nathan MacKinnon (pointless last two games) out of his rut, as well as wingers Landeskog (shot-less last two games) and Burakovsky (goal-less in the playoffs), among others.

The Avs have had very little sustained pressure on Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury since the first period of Game 2. They need to find that offensive magic that made them the NHL’s top-scoring team in the regular season and playoffs. They still lead the league in playoff scoring, despite producing just six goals in regulation over the last three games.

“One of the big things will be finding some room in the offensive zone to try to get some things going off the cycle,” Bednar said. “We haven’t been able to find space down there so we’ve looked at a few things, giving our guys some ideas and recommendations and we’ll see how we implement them tonight.”

“The guys are really excited,” Jost said. “We know what’s at stake. It’s a three-game series. It’s do-or-die now. We’re back in front of our own fans. That’s exciting and I know the guys are going to come out flying tonight.”

He added: “Last game, we battled hard. Didn’t see the result. Wasn’t what we wanted but I thought we built a little bit, so it’s something that we can build on tonight, and like I said, the guys are really energized and we’re excited to come out flying tonight.”

Footnotes. Forwards Carl Soderberg and Kiefer Sherwood were scratched after playing in Games 3 and 4. … The Avalanche pairings remained the same. … Veteran Defenseman Erik Johnson, who hasn’t played since Jan. 31 because of an upper-body injury, skated in a regular sweater Tuesday morning but has yet to be cleared.

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