The Colorado Avalanche will have to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights this evening at T-Mobile Arena in order to continue its run in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We are excited about the opportunity to win in this building," said defenseman Devon Toews. "We were here for two games before and we couldn't get the job done in either of those games, so it's a good opportunity for our group to show up. We feel like we are trending in the right direction. We haven't played our best yet either, so we are ready for that."
The Avs trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven Round 2 matchup against the Knights after winning the first two outings of the set. In Games 3 and 4 in Las Vegas, Colorado fell 3-2 and 5-1, respectively, but the Avalanche competed harder in the fourth outing than it had in the previous two.
In Game 5 on Tuesday, Colorado cleaned up its play on the ice and made improvements from Game 4, putting together a solid performance, though the squad fell 3-2 in overtime. Now facing elimination, the team will look to better some of its puck decisions that led to turnovers and goals against in that previous outing.
"Obviously, there's a few puck decisions that we have to clean up, but going back through [Game 5], I am not through all of it again yet, but I have gone through the scoring chances, and I like where they ended up for us," head coach Jared Bednar said on Wednesday. "The chances that we gave up were low, but we gave up a couple home run plays there on some of our decisions. Just making sure that we aren't trying to make something out of nothing in those situations. Take what they give you, make high percentage plays and not hope plays. A couple of those instances I think we are trying to do too much I think because we were feeling it a little bit [on Tuesday] and creating some chances, and it caught us a couple times.
"Cleaning that up, we'll have to do that in Vegas because they will come with some jump, but I don't see any reason why our team can't play with the same attack mentality that we had [in Game 5] and go in there and get the job done. We played some nice games in Vegas this year, although it hasn't resulted so far yet in this series. We know we can go in there and play well."
Despite the Avalanche dropping the first two contests of the set at T-Mobile Arena, the squad did go 2-2 in the building during the regular season, most recently picking up a 2-1 victory on May 10 that kept Colorado's Presidents' Trophy hopes alive.
Bednar was not with the Avs at today's morning skate due to an irregularity in his COVID-19 test results, but the team is focused on the task at hand.
"We are thinking that he will be back tonight, if not, we know what to do," said Joonas Donskoi. "We've been talking about things that we have to get better at for a long time. I think last game was a pretty good game from us, so we're just looking to build and get a win in tonight's game."
Video: Devon Toews and Joonas Donskoi after morning skate
The Avs aren't completely unfamiliar with do-or-die contests, as they have been in the same spot in each of the last two postseasons. In the second round in both 2019 and 2020, the club forced their Round 2 matchups to Game 7.
The Avalanche trailed the Dallas Stars 3-1 in the set last year and won two outings in a row to push it to seven contests. They also trailed 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks in 2019 and picked up a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 6 to extend the series.
"We come to the rink, we prepare for the game tonight, and if we have Jared, we have Jared and if we don't, we'll prepare for that as well," said Toews. "We are ready to go. As a group, we are ready, and we are excited for the challenge."
MACKINNON A HART TROPHY FINALIST
Nathan MacKinnon is a finalist for the Hart Trophy for the third time in the last four seasons after finishing runner-up for the award in both 2017-18 and 2019-20.
In 2020-21, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native placed fourth in the NHL with a career-high 1.35 points per game, recording 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) in 48 outings and finished among the league leaders in shots on goal (third, 206), power-play points (third, 25), assists (fifth, 45), points (eighth, 65) and power-play assists (tied for 10th, 17).
He had a career-best 15-game point streak from March 27 to April 28, the longest by any NHL player in 2020-21 and the longest by a member of the Avalanche since 2006-07 (Paul Stastny, 20 games). MacKinnon registered 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in the run.
Cale Makar was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy on Wednesday while Philipp Grubauer is a nominee for the Vezina Trophy. The series of announcements of the finalists for the 2021 NHL Awards concludes tomorrow when the three nominees for the Jack Adams Award will be unveiled.
Colorado has battled back from a 3-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series twice, with both of those Game 6 wins coming on the road. The team earned a win against the Sharks in the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals and in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils.
Brandon Saad ranks second on the team and tied for third in the NHL with seven goals this postseason. It's one shy of his career high for goals in a single playoff year (eight) set in 2015 with Chicago.
Tonight's game will be Nathan MacKinnon's 50th career postseason outing. He has 67 points (28 goals, 39 assists) in his first 49, the highest points-per-game average (1.37) among active players and the fourth highest in history (minimum 25 games played).
MacKinnon is tied for the league lead in goals (eight) and is tied for third in points (13).
Cale Makar ranks third among NHL defensemen with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in nine games this postseason.
Colorado owns a 12-11 mark in Game 6s since moving to Denver in 1995-96, with a 2-0 record in its last two opportunities in 2019 and 2020
In the series against the Golden Knights, the Avalanche has led for 37 percent of the time (113:22), trailed for 15 percent of the minutes logged (44:51) and the teams have been tied for 48 percent of the time (144:44).
THIS DAY IN AVS HISTORY
On June 10, 1996, Patrick Roy stopped all 63 shots and Uwe Krupp scored 4:31 into the third overtime to clinch the Avalanche's first-ever Stanley Cup championship with a 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final at Miami Arena.