The Avs’ defense delivered Wednesday night in forcing a Game 7, the first time Colorado has ever done so coming from a 3-1 series deficit.
In a stunning turnaround from the offensive onslaught in the previous five games, the Avalanche defeated Dallas, 4-1, in Game 6 to force the deciding game of the Western Conference semifinal series at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The winner of the first five games scored at least five goals.
Colorado, which struggled again on the power play (0-of-5), has nevertheless won two in a row with a third-stringer in net in Michael Hutchinson, and did so with a much cleaner game. They took just two penalties Wednesday and allowed the Stars just one power play.
“We needed to get more disciplined, a little bit more intelligent in our approach to the game, and I thought we did that tonight,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said.
Trailing 1-0, the Avs got goals from defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Cale Makar and forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon — the latter on an empty net late in the third period.
“It’s just knowing we can do it,” Makar said of forcing Game 7 from a 3-1 deficit. “For these past two games, our mindset has changed. Obviously, we’re on the ropes. We’re a team that’s going to fight to the end here. The next one is obviously a very big one for us. It’s going to be a fun one. But at the same time we’re going to have to bring our A-game.”
Hutchinson, who had to fight through just one Dallas power play, was once against solid in his second career playoff start. The goaltender had 23 saves.
MacKinnon, who assisted on Rantanen’s goal that gave Colorado a two-goal cushion early in the third period, wasn’t happy with how he played in the first period. He said both teams were “sleepy” in the opening 20 minutes, but the Avs were much the better team in the last 40.
“We battled back, had a good second (period) and really locked it down in the third,” MacKinnon said. “We were really responsible defensively. No turnovers, and just a solid game from everyone in the lineup.”
The Avs won despite even more players going down with injuries. Rookie defenseman Conor Timmins went out with an injury in the second period and didn’t return. Avs left wing Gabe Landeskog was also injured in the middle frame, with a teammate’s skate blade slicing him above his knee. He returned midway through the third period.
“That’s the injury, was the cut. Everyone saw that and knows that. I don’t know exactly what his status is going to be (for Game 7 on Friday),” Bednar said of his captain.
Colorado took a 2-1 lead on Makar’s goal at 7:48 of the second period. Defenseman Sam Girard fired a shot from the high slot, but the puck caromed off traffic and Makar picked it up and shot high on goalie Anton Khudobin. The Avs’ power play continued its series-long struggle in the period, going 0-of-2 to climb to 0-of-5 for the game and 3-of-28 for the series.
The Avs had several opportunities to score the game’s first goal in the first period but they failed to convert on their first three power plays, including a double-minor on Blake Comeau, the former Colorado winger who high-sticked Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and drew blood.
Dallas got the first goal on Miro Heiskanen’s wrist shot from the left circle at 17:35 of the first period — on a routine shot Hutchinson should have stopped. But the Avs tied it 1-1 at 19:28 of the opening frame on Zadorov’s long shot from the blue line.
“I just didn’t a get good read off that shot,” Hutchinson said of Dallas’ goal. “It’s a save I usually make. You make that mistake but there’s a lot of game left, and with our team, we fight right to the end. So no matter what, if you let in a bad goal or anything like that, you really have to put it behind you — especially with this team, knowing we’re going to keep battling for the rest of the game.”