The Vegas Golden Knights tied the West Division final at two games each after a dominating 5–1 victory in front of a ruckus 18,081 Golden Knights fans. The Colorado Avalanche need to regroup and rely on their best player to get them back in the right direction. The pivotal Game 5, back in Colorado, will go a long way in showing Avalanche fans that this year’s team is ready for the big time.
According to Hockey Reference, the team coming away victorious in the fifth game when the series is tied 2–2 wins the best-of-seven series 78.8% of the time. These kind of odds should make a team wake up and smell the coffee, especially after a lackluster appearance. The Avalanche are looking for some kind of momentum since defenseman Cale Makar scored to take a 2–1 lead in Game 3 with only 15 minutes left in the game. Colorado seemed to be in charge and on the brink of going up 3–0 and looking to have a stranglehold on the series. Boy, how things have changed.
In the wake of a great four-year run by center Nathan Mackinnon, big-time players need to step up in big-time situations. Ask any team that has won in the past decade (Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles): Your best players need to show up in the biggest moments. There is no better time for MacKinnon to show he can lead his Presidents’ Trophy-winning team to the third round of the playoffs.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native has registered 13 points in only eight playoff games this season, but none will be as big as the ones he can put up in Game 5 back in Denver. Forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen are important in helping MacKinnon, but do not drive the team’s heartbeat like MacKinnon can and does. Multiple-Stanley-Cup-winning forward Brandon Saad has done his best to show the scoring depth that helps win a series or two in a playoff run; now it is time for MacKinnon to show why he is in the argument as the top player in the league. On the defensive end, Makar has shown he can play with the best in this league and can chip in all over the ice. However, none are as important as MacKinnon.
The good news for Avalanche fans is head coach Jared Bednar will have last choice when sending a line over the boards. This should allow Colorado the opportunity to get the matchups they look for in the offensive and defensive zones. Bednar has done an excellent job this season getting his top players matched up and showing the secondary scoring options can make noise against other team’s top players. This will also allow Colorado the opportunity to try and keep some sustained pressure in the Vegas zone, something that was non-existent in the last three games, even the 3–2 overtime win by Colorado in Game 2. Much of the Avalanche pressure has come off the rush and resulted in a “one-and-done” attack in the offensive zone.
It is not easy to point a finger at the top player on the top team. However, MacKinnon can and should shoulder the load in the remaining games of the series. If Colorado wins at home in Game 5, MacKinnon will look like the possession-driving monster he showed in the regular season and Game 1 of this series. If he can do that, Colorado should be tough to beat at home and take a stranglehold on the series. If not, Vegas’ stingy style of defense may be the end of Colorado’s hopes when they fly back to Nevada on the brink of elimination. With all the momentum all but gone, Colorado would have a hard time winning the last two games of the series.
So, who needs to get out of the second round more? No doubt it is Colorado. The Avalanche have worked their plan from the ground up a few years ago and are starting to see their hard work come to fruition. If Colorado hung onto the 2–1 lead in Game 3, we may already be talking about the Avalanche moving onto the next round, but we are not. On the other side of the ice, Vegas was gifted a sweet expansion draft and were allowed to build an organization much faster than expansion teams in the past. Even with the Golden Knights losing the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, the fanbase has had a great ride through the infancy of their existence.
With that being said, the Avs have not been to the third round of the playoffs since dropping the Western Conference Final to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2001–02 playoffs. Colorado fans have seen the rebuild through and want nothing more than to head to Vegas with a 3–2 series lead. The time is now, and the time is now for MacKinnon to lead his team beyond the second round. The Avalanche are a legit Stanley Cup favorite, but may be on the outside looking in if they cannot stop the two-game skid and win Tuesday night in Colorado.