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Avalanche Making Adjustments to Respond to Knights

Colorado looking to be better in zone entries and neutral-zone defense

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

The Vegas Golden Knights haven't given the Colorado Avalanche much room to work with the past two games as they've been relentless in winning puck battles and applying constant pressure in all three zones.

It's up to the Avalanche now to make adjustments in its own game to break through the Knights and make sure the series doesn't return to Denver on Tuesday tied at 2-2.

The Avalanche won the first contest 7-1 last Sunday and pulled out a 3-2 overtime win on Wednesday before falling 3-2 on Friday at Vegas in Game 3. The clubs continue their Round 2 matchup on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. MT at T-Mobile Arena.

"It's a tougher challenge we've ever faced with Vegas being a top team and playing the right way," said head coach Jared Bednar on Saturday before the Avs' optional practice in Las Vegas. "Again, the message is partly going to be that there isn't going to be any easy ice out there. You have to go and earn every inch of ice that you get. In order to create offense, you're going to have to win battles in order to do that and be in the right positions on the ice and have the right desperation and tenacity on the puck in order to create offensively. That is where we have to get to as a group."

Video: Head coach Jared Bednar on preparing for Game 4

Vegas has outshot Colorado in each of the past two outings, holding a combined 84-45 in the category. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer gave the Avs a chance to win both contests, posting a playoff career-high 39 saves in Game 2 and then setting a new personal best two days later with 40 stops in Game 3.

Bednar said the team will gather at 5 p.m. PT on Saturday for a detailed video session, and the Avs coach is confident the squad will be able to learn from the meeting and make the necessary adjustments heading into the fourth contest.

"We've been checking the right way for the better part of a year, and we got to get back to that," Bednar said. "In order to create offense against a team that is above you and working and physical and putting numbers on the puck, you got to get to the inside ice, and you got to be willing to go into those hard areas and win some battles. There is no easy play out there, there is no easy ice out there."

One area that the Golden Knights have been particularly strong in recently has been in the neutral zone. Vegas hasn't allowed Colorado to use its speed to rush into the offensive end to create scoring chances, instead bogging down the Avs at the blue line and forcing them to dump the puck in and win forecheck battles to generate possession.

Video: Gabriel Landeskog on getting ready for Game 4

On the other side, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog noted the club wasn't able to have the same neutralizing effect at their blue line.

"It felt like they were getting through the neutral zone too easy on us and spent a lot more time in our zone than we did in theirs," Landeskog said. "That's hard to play against, and for us I think the neutral zone is a big part of the game and especially in these tight playoff games. We need to make sure we make the adjustments necessary to be better there."

In a best-of-seven series, the winning team that gets to advance to the next playoff round is generally the one that is able to make enough modifications between games to respond accordingly. The Knights have certainly done that through the first three contests between the top two teams from the regular season.

Now it's the Avalanche's turn to answer back.

"I think we all kind of know what we need to do to be better, and we all know that we need to be better," Landeskog said. "At the end of the day, we're still up 2-1 in the series and it was our first loss in two and a half weeks. But having said that, we need to learn from it and be better and make sure we bounce back tomorrow. It's as simple as that."

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