The Colorado Avalanche has pushed the Calgary Flames to the brink of the elimination but picking up a fourth victory against the Western Conference's top team during the regular season will be its toughest challenge yet.
Colorado has won three-straight contests in the series to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven set, with Game 5 tonight at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
"I think there is just that much more desperation on their side," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog. "For them, they're at home, they want to give it their all."
The Flames were the first club in the conference to secure a postseason spot and finished the 2018-19 campaign with a 50-25-7 record and 107 points. It was their best regular season since they won the Stanley Cup in 1988-89.
"I expect their best game of the series," Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said following morning skate. "I think they're a real proud group. A lot of character in the room. Obviously they finished first in the West for a reason, and I think we're going to see that tonight. To me, in order to close this out, I think we're going to have to play our best game of the series."
Landeskog expects the Flames to leave it all on the ice tonight, so to speak, with them on the verge of starting offseason activities earlier than they would like.
The key will be for Colorado to match that intensity, just like it has in the previous three outings.
"They're going to come out and really empty their tanks I assume. For us, it will be the same thing," Landeskog said. "We know what game it is and we know how important it is, but for us we want to make sure that we keep this thing going. We've played well here the last three games really and have been able to get some results. Tonight, hopefully we can build off of that and keep this thing going."
The Avalanche is coming off a 3-2 overtime victory at home in Game 4 that saw the squad rally from a 2-0 deficit with 12 minutes remaining in the third period. J.T. Compher began the team's comeback with his second marker of the postseason before Mikko Rantanen tallied both the game-tying and overtime-winning goals.
Rantanen has recorded multiple points in each of Colorado's three wins and is tied for sixth in the league in postseason scoring with six points (three goals, three assists).
"I think I just found the back of the net," Rantanen said of his recent play. "Started shooting and stuff and as a team we've been shooting a lot too. We just have to continue to do the same thing tonight, work hard. We know it's a do-or-die game for them. We know they're going to be ready to play, so we have to be ready too."
The Avalanche, which is in the playoffs for the second- straight season for the first time since making 11 straight trips from 1995 to 2006, is aiming to reach the second round for the first time since 2008. That year saw Colorado defeat the Minnesota Wild in six games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, winning the final three contests of the series.
Bednar wants his club to have a killer instinct this evening and not let the contest be the spark that leads to a comeback in the series for the Flames.
"You don't want to give a good team like this too many opportunities, so you got to play like it's an elimination game for both teams and leave it all on the ice and hopefully you come out on top," Bednar said. "Our guys are prepared for the challenge, they're excited about it, as we should be. We should also be confident based on what we've done in this series. It's going to be a hard-fought battle tonight, there is no question."
The Avalanche (since 1996) is 9-2 all-time in the playoffs when leading a series three games to one. The last time the team was up 3-1 after four games was in the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Dallas Stars, and it went on to win Game 5 in overtime by a 3-2 score.
Cale Makar has called the experience playing the Calgary Flames as "weird." You can understand the mixed emotions from the Avalanche defenseman since the Flames were his favorite club growing up and his parents are part-owners of season tickets.
The Calgary, Alberta, native will now look to help Colorado in ending the Flames' season.
Since signing with the Avs following his college season on Sunday and making his NHL debut on Monday, Makar has recorded a goal, two shots, seven shot attempts, two takeaways, four blocked shots and a plus-2 rating in two games. He saw 14:19 of ice time in Game 3 and then skated in 20:06 in the Avs' OT win in Game 4.
"He's a special kid, and I think his game kind of speaks for itself," Bednar said. "He looked like he's stepped right into our lineup, and he played 14 and change (minutes) the first night, made an impact. We ramped him up to about 20 based on what we liked about his performance in game one and continued it in game two. He was a real good player for us, impact player for us. Didn't seem like the moment rattled him at all. He just went out and played his game and had fun. That's what we wanted him to do. He was great for us. I expect him to do the same tonight."
While Makar had family support in the first two outings at Pepsi Center, along with 18,000-plus Avalanche fans, he will likely have an even larger cheering section this evening with him playing his first game back in his hometown. He told reporters this morning that the last time he skated at the Saddledome was during a Flames skills competition.
"It's going to be pretty cool," he said. "I haven't been on this ice since I was 12 years old. It is going to be pretty special, but it's going to be fun fighting with this group."
Prior to his time in the NCAA with the University of Massachusetts, Makar played for the Calgary Flames Bantam, Minor Midget and Midget programs before joining the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
PLAYOFF WATCH PARTY
The official Avalanche Watch Party, presented by Coors Light, for tonight's Game 5 between the Avs and Flames is at Sports Column in downtown Denver. Sports Column is located at 1930 Blake Street, Denver, CO 80202.
In addition to watching the game with fellow Avs fans, the team will also be giving away special prizes throughout the evening, including player-signed items. The fun begins just prior to the 8 p.m. MT puck drop.
Game 5 will be televised locally on Altitude and nationally in the United States on NBCSN. It can be watched live throughout Canada on CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports.