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Game Five Open Thread: Colorado Avalanche vs. Seattle Kraken (7:30 p.m.)

It’s a Colorado Avalanche gameday!

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Seattle Kraken Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Despite what many fans, pundits, and sharps in the desert believed coming into this series, the Colorado Avalanche and Seattle Kraken have played each other to a draw by pretty much any measure you look at. The series is tied 2-2, the Avs have a slight Corsi edge at 5-on-5 this series at 51 percent, and the Kraken have a slight expected goals edge at 51 percent.

Many in Colorado have interpreted this even split as proof that the sky is falling and the Avs are in deep trouble, but it simply just reinforces Nathan MacKinnon’s proclamation made after Game 3 that “this is definitely the hardest first round I’ve been in.” Colorado has played far from their best hockey against Seattle, and they will need to put on their best performance of the playoffs without multiple key players tonight. These are the kinds of games where their championship mettle must shine through.

Colorado Avalanche

All season long the Avalanche were forced to make do without key contributors, and Game 5 is something of a culmination of this season-long struggle. Cale Makar was suspended for this game over his late hit that injured Seattle’s leading goal-scorer Jared McCann, and Valeri Nichushkin has been mysteriously missing in action due to “personal reasons” since Game 2. Sportsnet’s Frank Servalli said yesterday he heard a rumor that the absence was alcohol-related, but Nichushkin’s agent Mark Gandler denied this report, telling MetaRatings “Nichushkin left Colorado because of problems with alcohol? This is not so.”

Colorado hasn’t had its back against the wall in the playoffs like this since the notorious Vegas series in the 2020-21 season when the Avs blew a golden opportunity to take control of the series and wound up getting out-muscled the rest of the way en route to an early postseason exit. The Avs hope that this series against another upstart expansion squad ratcheting up the physicality will be different, but it will be an especially difficult task when their two most physical forwards are out of the lineup, and perhaps their most physical defenseman is still trying to find his footing after sitting out the last month of the season with an injury.

There’s a sense around Colorado that this season is hopelessly cursed and this playoff series is the final nail in the coffin in a year where virtually nothing has gone Colorado’s way outside of transcendent seasons from Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Alexandar Georgiev, but the Avs are defending champions and no matter how short-handed they are, they will not go down without a fight. These are the kinds of games where your superstars need to be special, and MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Georgiev have proven in this series that they can win a game for the Avs on any given night.

Projected Lineup:

Artturi Lehkonen — Nathan MacKinnon — Evan Rodrigues
Matt Nieto — J.T. Compher — Mikko Rantanen
Ben Meyers — Lars Eller — Denis Malgin
Andrew Cogliano — Alex Newhook — Logan O’Connor

Bowen Byram — Devon Toews
Jack Johnson — Samuel Girard
Josh Manson — Erik Johnson

Note: In Game 4, Jared Bednar played three lines down the stretch and benched Meyers, Malgin, and Newhook in favor of a 3rd line of Cogliano, Eller, and O’Connor, so it’s quite possible that he sticks with that combination as his third line for Game 5. There’s been very little news on Jack Johnson since he injured himself in pregame warmups before Game 1, and if he is healthy enough to play, he surely will be in the lineup tonight (he was on the ice this morning in a full-contact jersey), but over who is a big question. He was the announced starter over Erik Johnson before the series, but Josh Manson has really struggled against Seattle, and Brad Hunt has been serviceable all year but the Avs clearly don’t trust him to handle major minutes. The only certainty about Colorado’s Makar-less back line tonight is that Byram, Toews, and Girard are going to get heavy minutes. They could also go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Seattle Kraken Projected Lines:

Jaden Schwartz — Yanni Gourde — Jordan Eberle
Eeli Tolvanen — Alexander Wennberg — Morgan Geekie
Brandon Tanev — Matthew Beniers — Oliver Bjorkstrand
Jesper Froden — Ryan Donato — Daniel Sprong

Vince Dunn — Adam Larsson
Jamie Oleksiak — William Borgen
Carson Soucy — Justin Schultz

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