The Colorado Avalanche is at its best when the team transitions up the ice on the rush, but that type of play is harder to create in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Colorado's transition game has still led to a fair share of goals scored in the first eight postseason contests--i.e. see Nathan MacKinnon's five markers--but the San Jose Sharks have done a good job in limiting those chances in Round 2.
Playing with speed and moving the puck into the offensive zone quickly is part of the identity of the 2018-19 Avalanche. The team isn't going to change what has made it successful this year, but the players recognize that they have to be more creative in generating scoring chances against a stymieing Sharks defense.
"I think we just have to change our mindset a little bit," said Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie. "They're playing good team defense, they're above all their checks and they're not giving us much off the rush. We have to be prepared to grind it out in their end. Maybe it takes a little bit longer, maybe it's not the prettiest play, but that's an adjustment we'll have to make."
The Avs only need to look at the video from their Game 3 loss to see the struggles and successes they had against the Sharks.
Other than MacKinnon's off-the-rush tally, Colorado wasn't able to create much offensively in the first two periods. When the team started to keep possession with a solid forecheck, the turnovers went down and the scoring chances went up.
"The video doesn't lie, so when you look through it, we're forcing too many plays, especially in the first 30 minutes of the game (in Game 3)," said head coach Jared Bednar. "The number of turnovers that I have calculated is high, and as the game goes on it diminishes and in turn we get more scoring chances, more shots on net instead of them. It's a pretty clear picture, and I think our guys are good with it."
Video: Jared Bednar before Game 4 against the Sharks
Matt Nieto's game-tying goal in the third period of Game 3 on Tuesday was the result of the Avalanche creating a turnover on the forecheck, keeping possession and then getting to the front of the net for traffic and a redirection.
"By no means do I want to skate to the red line and dump the puck in all night, that's not us," Bednar said. "But we have to be able to identify when we have options and what the good options are and make high-percentage plays.
"It's going to become tougher and tougher to create offense, and you have to make sure that our decisions are good and we're willing to do the work and build a goal, like we did in the third period the other night."
Video: Tyson Barrie talks about the upcoming Game 4
Being smart while with possession is a two-way street for the Avs, as poor puck play and turnovers created the Sharks' non-empty-net tallies last game.
San Jose scored its second and third goals off turnovers and out-battled Colorado for the puck on the game's opening marker in the first frame.
"I think the last game we didn't play great, not up to the standard we want to," said Tyson Jost. "We watched video, we know what we have to be better at. It's just a matter of putting it to work tonight, and I'm confident we'll be able to do that."
Down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Avalanche is a focused club heading into tonight's Game 4 at Pepsi Center. Colorado earned a split in the first two outings in San Jose and is now battling to do the same at home to even the second-round set.
Since moving to Denver in 1995, the Avs are 8-5 in playoff series when splitting the first four games.
"I think this is the biggest game of the year for us, and we know that," said Barrie. "It's a chance for us to tie the series up. And in front of our fans, it's going to be an easy one to get up for."
A decision on Avalanche forward Matt Calvert's availability for Game 4 had yet to be fully made following today's morning skate, but there appears to be some positive news.
"We'll see how he gets through this morning and everything, but I think there is a good possibility, yes," Bednar said when asked about Calvert's possible return.
The left wing missed his first game of the season on Tuesday after suffering an upper-body injury from a hit by the Sharks' Brent Burns late in the third period of Game 2. He was back on the ice on Wednesday as a full participant in Colorado's optional practice.
If Calvert returns from his one-game absence, he'll likely go back on to a line with J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto.
Nathan MacKinnon's goal in Game 3 extended his point streak to seven games, the longest by a Colorado player since Peter Forsberg's seven-game run in 2004.
MacKinnon has registered at least a point in every contest except Game 1 of the first-round series at the Calgary Flames, a 4-0 loss for the Avalanche. He leads the team and is tied for the top spot in the NHL for playoff scoring with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) after eight games.
Forsberg was the last Avs skater to record points in eight consecutive postseason contest, doing -so in 2002.