The Colorado Avalanche didn’t clinch their post-season berth until Game 81 of the regular season, coming down to the wire in a white-hot race with the Arizona Coyotes for the final Wild Card spot in the West.
It seemed as if that kind of snuck entrance into the postseason was a recipe for an early exit, especially against a team that seemed to dominate in the conference all year long — the Calgary Flames.
While goaltender Mike Smith did his best, though, the Avalanche managed to stagnate Calgary’s offense enough to stymie their opponents and take home a nice, early first round win. And now, they’re headed back to The Can to look at pulling ahead in yet another series — this time against the San Jose Sharks and the ever-mercurial Martin Jones.
Grubauer has been a clear playoff goalie this year, although not without his missteps. And while Martin Jones boasts a .714 save percentage in a playoff game this year (yes, really), he also survived double-OT against the Vegas Golden Knights and has proven that he’s still capable of stopping NHL-caliber shots when he feels like it.
The series has advantages for Colorado, for sure, but it won’t be an easy path to their hopeful Conference Final berth. That brings them to Game 3; they’re hosting the Sharks in Denver tied at a game apiece, and it’ll take more than just a good game from MacKinnon or a decent showing from Grubauer to pull off another win.
Long Beach native Matt Nieto scoring a playoff goal against his old team is like watching a Beyonce song play out in real life. #Avs— Ryan S. Clark (@ryan_s_clark) April 29, 2019
**Editor’s note - Matt Calvert will miss tonight’s game. Sven Andrighetto will draw in for him
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alexander Kerfoot
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen
Matt Calvert - J.T. Compher - Matt Nieto
Gabriel Bourque - Tyson Jost - Derick Brassard
Ian Cole - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Samuel Girard - Cale Makar
Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t been held without a point since the first game of the postseason, putting up at least an assist in every game since.
The Sharks have plenty of veteran experience to draw from, though, and where the Flames didn’t have an answer for his speed the Sharks absolutely do; they’ve drafted up a specific plan to stop him from gaining momentum and finding the back of the net. Sure enough, he was kept to just one assist and three shots (he’s recorded 7 SOG three times so far and 5 SOG twice out of seven games so far) in Colorado’s Game One loss.
As with the regular season, Rantanen is proving the threat that comes right on the heels of MacKinnon for opponents this postseason; of the team’s five wins, two of the game-winners have been from Mac and two more have been from his linemate. Which, of course, serves as a nice transition to mention that final game-winner goal scorer of the playoffs, Cale Makar — who has proven that the playoffs are where he belongs.
The team’s depth at forward remains a bit lacking, but not as severely as perception may suggest. Both Colin Wilson and Matt Nieto have three goals apiece, and the strong defensive presence Colorado has developed should serve them well.
Timo Meier - Logan Couture - Gustav Nyquist
Evander Kane - Marcus Sorensen - Dylan Gambrell
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Barclay Goodrow
Lukas Radil - Kevin Labanc - Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon - Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan - Justin Braun
Before the series started, we warned that Evander Kane was a player to watch out for — and sure enough, he’s managed to make his presence known already. He has two goals and six points in nine playoff games, up from just four points before the series started, and has racked up a whopping 41 penalty minutes since the postseason began. To add to that, he’s shooting at just 6.9 percent through the nine games he’s played so far — nice for Colorado but not-so-nice for them when he gets that luck back.
The Sharks remain one of the league’s most comically stacked offensive defending teams in the league, with a whopping 11 points and four goals from Brent Burns alone and ten assists from Erik Karlsson. He still hasn’t scored a goal, but when those floodgates open up it could mean trouble for Colorado.
There’s also the surprising contribution of one Kevin Labanc for San Jose; he’s not one of the banner names on the Sharks, but he’s been one of their most promising young contributors to date. After nearly hitting 60 points in the regular season, the 23-year-old Brooklyn native has three goals and six points to go with a fantastic power-play presence so far. If the Sharks can smoothly transition from Joe Thornton’s era to one with Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, and Labanc, the West won’t be free of them for years.
As mentioned above, Martin Jones has proven capable of putting up the numbers worthy of an NHL goaltender in games so far this series — but he remains a wild card who could either wreck Colorado’s dreams or give them a free pass to the next round. He’s struggled immensely from a technical standpoint, but he has a strong enough team in front of him that there are games where that hasn’t quite mattered; if he can stop the most basic of shots, the Sharks still have a chance to win it.
On the other side of the ice, Philipp Grubauer has shown his human side periodically during both the regular season and the playoffs. Like Jones, though, he has a strong enough team in front of him that he doesn’t necessarily need to steal them all of their wins; if he plays at even the level that fans expect of him, no more, he can managed to snag a second win in the series.