After losing a disappointing Game 3 at home by a score of 4-2, the Colorado Avalanche looked to even the series against the San Jose Sharks at two games apiece before travelling to Game 5 at the Shark Tank on Saturday. Defensive miscues were a huge contributor to the Avs’ loss on Tuesday, that part of team’s play needed to remain solid and disciplined tonight to have a chance to tie the series.
Offensively, the Avs’ top players needed to be on their game. Nathan MacKinnon’s speed was key as he looked to extend his seven-game point streak tonight. However, the Avalanche also needed other players involved in order to progress beyond this playoff round.
There was a strong pace at the beginning of Game 4, as play went end-to-end. Both sides started the game quickly compared to Game 3 on Tuesday now that the series has ripened over the past three contests. Ultimately, the first period was a goaltending battle between the netminders Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones.
San Jose had the better chances early as defenseman Brent Burns continued to be an offensive threat against Grubauer and the Colorado defense. However, Grubauer was on his game and showed why he’s earned nine straight starts in net for the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs’ offense put pressure on Jones as well yet was unable to get a shot past the San Jose netminder midway through the period.
Alexander Kerfoot had perhaps the best opportunity for the Avalanche as he crashed the net with four minutes remaining, but his backhand was stopped. Play shifted in favor of the Sharks shortly after as Lukas Radil had a breakaway opportunity that was stymied by Grubauer to keep the score at zeros. The shots-on-goal (SOG) slightly-favored the visiting Sharks with 12 compared to the Avs’ 10 for the period.
The second period began with an early penalty on the San Jose Sharks as Timo Meier was called for hooking against Tyson Barrie. Unfortunately, the Avalanche power play unit continued to struggle in this playoff series and were unable to capitalize on the man-advantage opportunity.
The Sharks’ first powerplay of the evening came at 6:15 in the period as Alexander Kerfoot was also called for a hooking penalty against Martin Sorensen. The Avalanche almost went down two men as Matt Calvert tripped up Karlsson, but the call was missed by the officials.
Shortly thereafter, a Matt Nieto breakaway drew a tripping penalty to turn play into 4-on-4 and later provided a 30-second power play for the Avalanche. Yet again, the power-play remained unsuccessful for the home team.
The tiebreaker finally came at 10:34 as Nathan MacKinnon swiped a rebound out of mid-air to put the Avalanche in the lead. This firsthand display of MacKinnon’s adept hand-eye coordination extended his points streak to eight games (13 points overall).
Nathan MacKinnon almost added to his tally as his wrister from a rebound off the end board was stopped by the left leg pad of Martin Jones with two minutes remaining in the period. A Gustav Nyquist breakaway in the last minute resulted in a penalty called on Tyson Barrie, while Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer made a huge stop on the play.
Despite the last-minute penalty call and the close shots-on-goal, with 11 for the Sharks to 12 for the Avs, the second period clearly favored the Avalanche. The home team had the better offensive opportunities and continued to pressure the Sharks after MacKinnon’s breakthrough goal.
The third period started with a fresh sheet of ice and the Sharks on the power-play. The Avalanche penalty kill was highly-effective and prevented the Sharks’ offense from building-up any momentum.
The Avalanche earned their third power-play of the evening within three minutes of the period. Third time was the charm for the Avs’ power-play as Colin Wilson put in the goal off a brilliant pass from Mikko Rantanen to double their lead 2-0.
The physical intensity of the game increased after that second goal. A scrap between the Avs’ captain Gabriel Landeskog and the Sharks’ Timo Meier resulted in 4-on-4 hockey.
The Avalanche almost scored a third goal early, but Carl Soderberg was unable to convert an open-net chance after receiving defensive pressure from Burns.
As the final period progressed, the Sharks’ play grew desperate as they gave the Avalanche their fourth power play of the night with eight minutes remaining. Brent Burns later hooked Samuel Girard to give the Avalanche a 5-on-3 advantage for 17 seconds. Despite five chances, an ineffectual Avalanche power play was only able to convert on one occasion.
Fortunately, the Avalanche defense was able hold off the Sharks’ six-man (empty-net) onslaught during the remaining two minutes of the game. Defender Erik Johnson was able to put in the empty-netter to seal the 3-0 victory for the Avalanche with a little over a minute remaining.
The Avalanche showed their resolve by responding to Tuesday’s loss with strong play and earned the victory. Philipp Grubauer’s consistent performance in net was a huge factor as the goaltender stopped 32 shots in his first playoff shutout of his career.
With the best-of-seven series tied 2-2 going back to San Jose, expect to see the physical play and intensity to ramp up on Saturday during Game 5 at 8:00 PM Mountain Time as the teams battle for that crucial 3-2 lead.