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Avalanche can’t overcome sluggish first period in 5-4 loss to give Dallas 3-1 series lead

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NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche finally started to wake up during the second and third periods of their game on Sunday afternoon.

But even with two goals from former Dallas Star himself Valeri Nichushkin combined with a pair of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Cale Makar, the Avalanche were unable to pull themselves back into contention soon enough to truly get themselves back into the game. They ultimately fell 5-4 in regulation, dropping to a dangerous 3-1 series deficit and facing elimination at the hands of a team that everyone assumed they would easily steamroll right over.

THE RUNDOWN

The Avalanche all but sealed their own fate in the first 15 minutes of the game, when they dug themselves a 3-0 goal deficit all while recording zero shots of their own. The possession trade-off wasn’t as stark for Dallas as it would be in favor of Colorado over the back two-thirds of the game, but Colorado’s inability to effectively crowd Anton Khudobin’s crease and record a shot on net would leave them trailing even when they managed to take control of the game eventually.

The first trio of goals against came at the hands of John Klingberg, Radek Faksa, and Jamie Benn, who all scored in a five-minute stretch between the sixth and eleventh minute of that first frame. The first two goals were clear defensive breakdowns for the Zadorov pairing combined with some tough rebound control by Grubuaer — and although the third goal was a tough deflection that would have been hard to stop for any goalie, it just added to the struggle Colorado would have trying to dig themselves back into the game.

Once the Avalanche took their first shot on goal at 18:25 of the first period, their depth started to push back with some pressure. They ultimately ended up with the edge in possession by the end of the game, sitting with a 37-29 shot advantage when all was said and done.

They started to mount their attempted comeback in the second period, when Valeri Nichushkin would score his first goal of the playoffs just over halfway through the frame. He would stay with the play around the net, eventually snagging a rebound off of Khudobin’s right pad and getting Colorado on the board for the first time all game:

Cale Makar would follow that up with a goal of his own on the power-play, pulling Colorado within a single goal. But the Stars would then score twice again in the first ten minutes of the third period, so even a second goal by Nichushkin and a six-on-five tally by Namestnikov just weren’t enough to help the Avalanche tie the series up.

It was one of Nichushkin’s best offensive efforts of the playoffs, but the fact that the Stars managed to stifle MacKinnon and Kadri enough to keep them off the scoresheet was all it took. And some costly mistakes by the pairing of Zadorov and Makar made it hard for the team to

THE TAKEAWAYS

  • The Avalanche are obviously playing injured, with both Erik Johnson and Philipp Grubauer out of the series following injuries earlier in play against the Stars. But ideally, giving additional defensive responsibility to guys like Nikita Zadorov and Cale Makar shouldn’t cause the wheels to fall off quite as quickly as they did. Makar is far from the only freshman still trying to get his playoff sea legs under him; for Vancouver, fellow Calder-worthy phenom Quinn Hughes has been dealing with his own set of in-game ups and downs. But without Johnson in the defensive lineup, it’s tough to see Makar make mistakes like he did in the first.
  • Michael Hutchinson did just fine when he went into the game in relief of Francouz — who allowed all five goals scored by Dallas prior to getting yanked — but the absence of Grubauer is probably making the team sweat a little bit just about now. Hutchinson has struggled with consistency at the NHL level during his career — and although he had some impressive games with the Winnipeg Jets back when he was battling for the backup gig behind Ondrej Pavelec a handful of years back, his performances in the last few seasons make it hard to feel comfortable relying on him if Francouz struggles out of the gate in the team’s next game.
  • The Stars took advantage of the often-times lighter officiating in the postseason to do everything in their power to stifle Nathan MacKinnon — and it worked. Although MacKinnon still managed to drive possession at a fairly successful rate, he just wasn’t able to close things out; if the Avalanche want to stage a comeback, they’ll have to formulate a new game plan that finds a way to open him up for some scoring.