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Avalanche Relishes Game 7 Against Sharks

Colorado faces another must-win to reach the Western Conference Final

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

DENVER--These are the types of games that the Colorado Avalanche has played its best in all season.

For the second straight contest, the Avs face a must-win scenario if they want to extend their Stanley Cup Playoff run, as they take on the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday at SAP Center in Game 7 of their Round 2 series. Colorado forced the decisive final game with a 4-3 overtime victory on Monday at home.

"I think you look at some of the games we played down the stretch, the games we needed to win, there is a couple in the playoffs, it's brought out the best of our team, so that gives me confidence going into tomorrow night," said head coach Jared Bednar prior to the squad's travel to the Bay Area. "We know it's going to be a really tough game, our guys have stepped up, and I think we can do it again tomorrow night. I think our guys believe in that, so the sky is the limit."

Colorado went on an 8-0-2 run in the final weeks of the regular season to capture the last playoff berth in the Western Conference, which featured the squad playing teams it was battling with for that spot. The Avs picked up victories against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild and rallied from a two-goal deficit in the penultimate game of the season versus the Winnipeg Jets to clinch its second straight trip to the postseason.

Picking up wins in important games has also been a theme during the playoffs. Down 1-0 in the Round 1 series versus the Calgary Flames, the Avalanche won Game 2 on the road in overtime to begin a stretch of four straight victories versus the West's top team. Against the Sharks, Colorado won Games 2, 4, 6 to even the series each time.

Monday's contest was the first elimination game the Ave have faced during their trek for a Stanley Cup championship.

"It's another elimination game for us," Bednar said of heading into Game 7. "I kind of put Game 4 in that same category, I felt like we needed to win and not be trailing going back to San Jose 3-1. Obviously, no team in this series has been able to win back-to-back, and we'll have to do that tomorrow night in San Jose. It's a tough building to go in and play… Now you're going to see both teams play desperate hockey, so it should be a real, fun battle. I don't see much difference for us compared to our game last night."

Winning those types of "must-win" contests has given Colorado a confidence heading into its latest one.

"I think especially last night, we showed a level of resiliency that I think everyone in our locker room knew was there, but I think that a lot of people on the outside didn't really see until the playoffs," said Ian Cole. "Any time you can show that type of resiliency and stick to the game plan, and no matter what happens continue to keep playing and stay positive, you've got a chance to win every game."

Much of the Avs' success during the postseason has corelated with the play of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who are tied for second in league scoring with 13 points. What might be overlooked is the fact that they've also got contributions from other players in their lineup at key times.

Colin Wilson has four goals in the playoffs and recorded three points in Game 5 against Calgary; Matt Nieto has four goals, including two short-handed markers; Tyson Jost has scored in each of the last two contests; and J.T. Compher recorded a playoff career-high three points in Game 6 against the Sharks.

"You don't win or lose with one player or one line, it has to be a team effort," Bednar said "We've had guys elevate their games at the right times."

The Avalanche needs another full-team effort if it wants to earn its seventh victory in a Game 7 in franchise history.

"For us, we just took it a game at a time and believed in ourselves, and it doesn't really matter externally what anyone thinks about you," said Erik Johnson. "It's about what you believe about yourself and your team and that's what we've done and that's why we've been successful."

Colorado/Quebec Nordiques have played in 13 Game 7s in its history and 11 since moving to Denver in 1995. The Avs and Sharks have met once before in a seventh contest, a 1-0 Colorado win in the 2002 conference quarterfinals.

The winner of Wednesday's outing will advance to the Western Conference Final, a place the Avalanche hasn't played in since reaching it in four straight years from 1999 to 2002.

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