With everything on the line, the Colorado came into Game 6 of their series with teh Vegas Golden Knights hoping to stave off elimination. To do so, their best players would have to be outstanding and Nathan MacKinnon was exactly that. He was the best player on either team but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to extend the season.
Too many mistakes - particularly from the team’s bottom-4 defenders - combined with some lucky bounces in favor of Vegas and the Golden Knights escaped with a 6-3 victory.
The final score didn’t accurately reflect how the game went as the Avs carried the play for the vast majority of the game but just couldn’t build on any momentum they were creating. Every time they scored Vegas had an answer and it was enough to give them a 4-2 series win.
The start to this one was anything but boring. After taking some unwarranted criticism over the last 48 hours, Nathan MacKinnon started this game like he knew it was the biggest game of his career. Less than 25 seconds into the game, the Hart Trophy finalist brought the puck into the offensive zone with a burst of speed and was able to find Devon Toews who beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Avalanche a very early 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the quick lead was very short lived as Nick Holden - who had been taken out of the lineup earlier in the series - was able to draw the Golden Knights even on a very odd goal. For some reason, Philipp Grubauer had absolutely no idea that the puck had gone out to the point and while his eyes were focused on the corner, Holden slid a soft wrister past him to tie the game at 1-1.
Things didn’t calm down there. The next 15 minutes were played at a frenetic pace as they decided they were content with trading scoring chances. After a number of great saves from both goaltenders, Vegas was able to finally break the deadlock with less than five minutes remaining in the first when Alec Martinez fed William Karlsson with a beautiful pass for a one-timer that gave VGK a 2-1 lead.
That is how the score would stay going into the first intermission as the Avalanche outshot Vegas 12-10.
In a game like this, it became obvious early that the referees weren’t going to call any penalties unless they absolutely had to. Three minutes into the second period, they were forced into one as Alex Pietrangelo put the puck over the glass and was sent to the box for delay of game. With their season on the line, the Avalanche powerplay took advantage as Nathan MacKinnon recorded his second primary assist of the night as be once again used his speed to break into the offensive zone before feeding Mikko Rantanen who got a fortuitous bounce off a Vegas defender to put the puck past Fleury and tie the game.
The goal seemed to spark the Avs as they spent the next 10 minutes dominating Vegas but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Unfortunately, that was costly as Keegan Kolesar was able to tip an Alex Pietrangelo point shot past Grubauer to give Vegas a 3-2 lead with five minutes left in the period.
Like earlier int he game, this lead didn’t last long. This time it was the Avalanche who answered as Andre Burakovsky scored his first of the series only two minutes later. The goal came off of a great pass from Cale Makar. It was Burakovsky’s 10th game in 14 elimination playoff games. That puts him at 0.71 goals per game, which is third all time behind only Hall of Famers Maurice Richard and Pavel Bure.
Just as it looked like the Avs would head into the final 20 minutes with the score tied, Vegas got some more puck luck - the bounces seemed to be going their way all night - as Pietrangelo jumped on a loose puck and put it into the back of the net. That gave the Golden Knights a 4-3 lead going into the second intermission.
With one period to save the season, the Avalanche couldn’t get it done. William Carrier scored on a bad defensive play from Sam Girard midway through the period then Max Pacioretty iced it with an empty net goal.
It was a hell of a season but unfortunately, the magic ran out as the Avalanche drop the series 4-2 and are eliminated by a Vegas Golden Knights team that finished the regular season with more wins than anyone else in the league.
For the third straight season, the Avs were eliminated in the second round - though this is not like the previous two. These were the beat two teams in the league and they should have met later on in the playoffs.
It’s hard not to feel proud of this Avalanche team and excited for what’s to come in the future.