In order to keep its season alive, the Colorado Avalanche has to go out and win Game 6 at the Vegas Golden Knights in order to force the Round 2 series to go the distance.
The Avs trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven set after falling 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday night. Despite facing the win-or-go-home scenario, the Avalanche is approaching Thursday's outing in Las Vegas with conviction.
"I think the mood is pretty good, we know what we have to do. We have to go into Vegas and win one game and give ourselves the opportunity to come home and take another kick at it like we had last night," said head coach Jared Bednar. "I was encouraged by [Game 4] in Vegas. Even though the result was poor, we made some big steps in that game and definitely another big step last night. To us, that's how we have to play.
"Obviously, there's a few puck decisions that we have to clean up, but going back through the game, 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. The chances that we gave up were low, but we gave up a couple home run plays there on some of our decisions… I don't see any reason why our team can't play with the same attack mentality that we had last night and go in there and get the job done. We played some nice games in Vegas this year although it hasn't so far yet in this series. We know we can go in there and play well."
After earning a 7-1 win in Game 1 of the series, Colorado followed that up with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2 but fell 3-2 and 5-1 in Games 3 and 4, respectively. Despite the loss in the fourth outing, the Avalanche competed better in that contest than it had in the previous two.
In Game 5, Colorado improved its play on the ice and put together as solid of a performance as it could for nearly 60 minutes, with an emphasis on an attacking mindset, but turnovers led to goals against.
Now facing elimination, the Avs aren't in completely unfamiliar territory as they have been in the same spot in each of the last two postseasons, with both occurrences also coming in the second round. In both series, they forced the sets to go to Game 7.
The Avalanche trailed the Dallas Stars 3-1 last year and won two in a row to push the set to seven contests. After also trailing 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks in 2019, the club forced a Game 7 with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 6.
"I think for us, our team is still in a really good mindset," said defenseman Cale Makar. "I think we controlled the game for 90 percent of last night and it's just a couple bad turnovers and bad breaks, and thats just how it goes. Obviously, you want that one but it's a [seven]-game series for a reason, so there's still two games and that's kind of the way that we are looking at it I think. Like I said, a great mindset in the room and I think guys are just excited to get this next one going here."
Colorado has also battled back from a 3-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series twice, earning a win against the Sharks in the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals and, perhaps most notably, in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils.
"People were talking about the Avalanche's last Cup run, losing to New Jersey at home in Game 5 and then going there and then ended up winning in seven. I think for us overall, obviously we went through this last year with a similar thing with Dallas where we were down 3-1 in the series, and we were able to claw our way back with an unfortunate loss in Game 7," said Makar. "For us, we just got to take it shift-by-shift and stay in the moment, make sure that we are doing everything right. Obviously, it is do-or-die for us, but I think our mindset is in the right place and we are ready to go."
Facing adversity is not a new concept in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and how you handle the cards that you are dealt and battle through those challenges often shows the talent and the mental strength that is on a team's roster.
"The situation we are in is what it is… There're areas we got to clean up, but if we can go and play the same type of game and just manage the puck a couple percent better, then we are going to give ourselves a real good chance to win, and if we do that then we are coming home for Game 7. It's one game at a time, and we are going in to win one hockey game," said Bednar. "We are a real good hockey team; they are a real good hockey team. Going out and playing the right way and playing to the best of your ability doesn't always guarantee a win when you are playing a team that you just tied after 56 games.
"Here we are, five games into it, and they are up 3-2, so you got to go lay it all out on the line, play your game, play fearless and the chips will fall where they fall. It's sports, it isn't easy. We know now it's not going to be easy, and we don't expect it to be easy. We got to go out and earn it, and that's the mentality I want our guys to have and we can get it done. I have seen our guys step up in big moments now for four years, and none bigger than this one here tomorrow night."
MAKAR A NORRIS FINALIST
On Wednesday morning, Cale Makar was named a finalist for the 2020-21 James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to "the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."
Makar, the reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner as last year's most outstanding rookie, ranked sixth among defensemen with 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) despite missing 12 of Colorado's 56 contests. He played in 44 games and averaged 1.00 points per game, the most among all blueliners in 2020-21. It marked the second time in Avalanche/Nordiques history that a defenseman has produced at such a rate: Steve Duchesne in 1992-93 (82 points in 82 games with Quebec).
"Obviously very honored to be recognized as a finalist for that award," said Makar. "To be completely honest it is not something that is at the forefront of my mind right now, so I'll worry about that when we get things finished up here."
The Calgary, Alberta, native is the fourth Avalanche player to be named a finalist for the award joining Rob Blake (2001-02), Ray Bourque (2000-01) and Sandis Ozolinsh (1996-97) and he is contending to become the first Norris Trophy winner in franchise history.
Alex Newhook on resetting after Game 5: "It's a long series. We've always said its first to four [wins]. In my short time here, I think it's something I've learned pretty quickly, you got to have a short memory in this league and in the playoffs especially. So as soon as that game was over, look forward to the next one and got to win these next two, so looking forward to it."
Cale Makar on the swings of the series: "I don't think we got too comfortable; I think maybe just a little bit disconnected as a team just not working as a unit on the ice. But I think everything has been leading up since that third game. We've been getting more and more momentum and especially last night just a couple of bad breaks there, and it is what it is and that's just the way hockey goes. I feel like as team we still have a great mindset going into this next game and obviously the goal is to come back to Denver."
Head coach Jared Bednar on scoring against Vegas: "This is a real good hockey team, and they are going to have something to say about it and they're not going away. This is a team, you have to go get it, they are not going to hand you anything. They are not going to give you any space, you're going to have to create it. One of the things I really liked out of Game 4 is we got back in our D-zone, especially with the third man and really helped on our breakouts. We got it in and out of our zone and our breakout percentage went from being low for us to being right at where we were at in the regular season and when we were playing Vegas. And their zone time was almost cut in half in Game 4, so we started to take over a bit of that wave battle, though we didn't have as much time as we generally do. I think we turned that table last night, I am still waiting on some numbers, but from looking at the scoring chances and once you get in and out of our zone then our D are more a part of our attack."