With its Round 2 series against the Vegas Golden Knights tied at 2-2, the Colorado Avalanche's mindset for the next few games is to embrace the challenges that the Knights present and battle through them.
"Your mentality coming into the game and your approach to the game from a mental standpoint I think is really important because we can talk about adjustments and this and that, it is pretty clear what they are doing," said head coach Jared Bednar. "They make a play in the D-zone, they are throwing it out in the neutral zone, and they are coming at us 100 miles an hour. We have to make sure that we beat their guys back up the ice and we got to find a way to transition out of that cleanly, and they are making it tough on us.
"So, earning our ice and earning our space, fighting in those hard areas to try and keep advancing the puck and put them under duress a little bit is going to be real important. If our guys understand that it is going to be very difficult but we can get it done, then I like where our mind is at going into the [next] game."
After earning two victories on home ice to begin the best-of-seven series, the Avs dropped both contests in Vegas, falling 3-2 in Game 3 on Friday and 5-1 in Game 4 on Sunday. Game 5 is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT at Ball Arena.
In Game 4, Brandon Saad tallied the lone goal for Colorado 1:50 after puck drop, but the Knights scored five unanswered to maintain a series trend with the home team once again being victorious.
"I thought we entered the fight last night early in the game, and then we gave up a goal or two and it kind of went away for a period. We got it back, but it's a mental grind," Bednar added. "You have to face the adversity head on. You got to be confident in what you do, there has to be trust within your group that each of those guys on the ice as a group of five or six is going to do their job… It's a bunch of that stuff that we've talked about but trying to get some guys reset. It is always important in a playoff series to move on the right way after wins and after losses, and certainly that is really important for us here coming into Game 5."
Video: Coach Jared Bednar on the Avs bouncing for Game 5
On Saturday evening, the Avalanche held a team meeting for a detailed video session and to go over a few things that the coaching staff wanted to emphasize after seeing areas for improvement in Games 2-3.
The group was able to take what was discussed in that meeting and apply it in Game 4, with the squad "making some strides" that Bednar liked in Sunday's loss.
"I am confident our guys know, especially after our meeting the other night, on what we need to do more of and what we need to eliminate out of our game in order to have success," said Bednar. "Now, keep in mind, we are playing a team we tied with after 56 games and now we are tied with in four games of the series, and they are going to make it hard on you. Right now, they are making it harder on us than we are on them, but we know that we have that ability… Once a team kind of gets going you have to fight extra hard in order to try and steal that momentum one piece at a time."
It is the third-straight season that the Avalanche has advanced to the second round after falling in overtime of Game 7 to the Dallas Stars last year and the San Jose Sharks in the season prior. In 2020, Dallas jumped out to a 3-1 series lead but Colorado earned victories in Games 5 and 6 to force the decisive-seventh matchup.
Although technically the Avs were the home team for that game, it took place in the Edmonton bubble and no fans were in attendance.
This series, Colorado has the support of 10,000-plus Avs Faithful in the stands. The Avalanche is 4-0 at Ball Arena this postseason and going back to the regular season, the team has won 13 straight on home ice and is 20-0-1 in its last 21 outings in the Mile High City.
"You have to rehash that a little bit I think at this point because we learned some valuable lessons in those playoffs. We've talked briefly even during this series and coming into this series about last year's Dallas series," said Bednar. "We are sitting in a better spot now than we were there. Part of what gives me confidence is the way our team has played at home and the energy we have been able to come out with and the legs and our skating and our tenacity on pucks at home, so that's been a positive and we have two of the next three at home.
"I know our guys will be excited. I think also just some of the things we went over last game, I thought our guys did a good job of getting involved in the battle a little bit more and doing some things. Now, obviously we had some of our breakdowns and it cost us but there were some steps in the right direction on some things that we need to do in order to have success in this series."
POSSIBLE LINEUP CHANGES?
Head coach Jared Bednar has said all season that the team will dress a lineup that the coaching staff believes gives the squad the best chance for a win, and his message is the same ahead of Game 5.
The Avalanche has made a few changes to its personnel during the series with rookie forwards Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta playing in Games 1-2 before being swapped out for Kiefer Sherwood and Carl Soderberg. Bednar also shuffled some of his forward combinations at points in Games 3 and 4, and more alterations could be on the horizon.
"We are talking about a lot of different options here and how we are deploying our guys and what exactly they are doing for us in the series. We have guys that we need on the power play, we have guys that we need on the penalty kill that have done a nice job for us," noted Bednar. "Our special teams have been pretty good throughout the whole playoffs here, and it is an important piece too because those two minutes are magnified. Obviously with an extra guy on the ice or down a guy on the ice, so you need the right players in those situations."
Rookie defenseman Bowen Byram is a possibility to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut after he was medically cleared at the beginning of the postseason. He has been skating with the main group at practices and morning skates, as he and Jacob MacDonald have filled the roles of the seventh and eighth defensemen in those sessions.
Byram played in 19 games this year but missed the final 24 contests of the regular season with an upper-body injury that he suffered on March 25 versus the Golden Knights.
"Bo is a guy that we are considering there is no question. The concern with Bo is he hasn't played a lot of hockey in the last year and a half, and he hasn't played in three months," said Bednar. "To go in against a team like Vegas, it's a tall task for a young player. We will balance all of that stuff. Everyone is involved in the conversation: our management, our coaches, even some of our leaders. We are talking to them and getting ideas and trying to sort it out and dress the best lineup that we feel can give us the best chance to win tomorrow night. That is our focus. It is one game at home."