It wasn't going to be an easy task for the Colorado Avalanche facing the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round, and the best-of-seven series will now go at least six games with the set tied at 2-2.
The Avs scored the first goal of Game 4, but the Knights responded by tallying five unanswered in a 5-1 win in Game 4 at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday.
"They got a good team. That is a way the series goes, that's why they call it a series. We didn't think we were going to come in here and take both games," said forward Brandon Saad. "I mean, we didn't play as good as we should have, but there's some things that we did do well that we can kind of regroup here and have a short-term memory. We are going back to a building where we have success in, where we play well at. It's a 2-2 series. It's best of three now. We know we got a long road ahead of us, and we are looking forward to the challenge."
The teams finished the regular campaign tied with 82 points apiece, the most in the league, but the Avalanche claimed the Presidents' Trophy as the best team in the regular season by way of a tiebreaker (regulation wins, 35-30). Since the NHL switched to a division playoff format in 2013-14, this is the third time in eight seasons that the league's top two teams from the year have met in the second round.
Because Colorado finished as the No. 1 seed, the Avalanche owns home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a potential three games remaining in this series, two of those games will be played in Denver in front of Avs Faithful if Round 2 goes the distance.
Video: Postgame press conference with Brandon Saad
The home team has won each of the first four contests of the set as the Avs won Games 1 and 2 at Ball Arena by scores of 7-1 and 3-2 in overtime, respectively, and were defeated 3-2 on Friday in Vegas.
"That's why we worked so hard during the year to get that home-ice advantage," said Saad. "Obviously, we'd like to come into this building and play a little better but like I said, it's a series. We are going back home where we are confident that we can just take it one game at a time and get a win. I think that's the focus. We got to forget about this trip here and reset."
In the first period of Game 4, Vegas came out firing and had 10 pucks on net in the first 5:21, but the Avs held them to just five more shots before the intermission. The teams went into the second stanza knotted at 1-1, but the Knights scored four more times before the final buzzer.
"I think we didn't sustain enough zone time there," Saad noted of the second and third periods. "In the first, we did a good job of kind of supporting each other, being around the net, being second man in on battles, winning those pucks back. In the third, we kind of let it slip away, we gave up some odd-man rushes, a power-play goal. They are a good team. They are going to capitalize on your mistakes."
The Avalanche is 11-10 when splitting the first four games of a best-of-seven playoff series, including sporting an 8-6 record since arriving in Denver.
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar after the Game 4 loss
"It's a best-of-seven series, not a best of four. I said it after Game 1, it's a race to four, it's not a race to two," said head coach Jared Bednar. "We've got two out of the next three games in our building where we've played real well, and those guys have done a great job. I mean, this is going to be a battle. I fully expect our guys to take another step in this series in the home game."
The fifth outing of the set is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT.
The Avalanche mixed up its middle-six trios, putting Valeri Nichushkin on the left side of a line with Tyson Jost and Joonas Donskoi and moving Andre Burakovsky to the right wing on a combination with Brandon Saad and J.T. Compher.
Saad scored the first goal of the game 1:50 after the opening faceoff. He hit twine after a rebound from Compher's shot ricocheted to him at the top of the crease.
Video: COL@VGK, Gm4: Saad cleans up in front for early goal
It was Saad's sixth goal of the postseason and marked the sixth time that Colorado found the back of the net first in its nine playoff games this year.
"It's playoffs. Everyone has got to produce; everyone has got to be on their game," said Compher. "It's got to be every guy that's in the lineup, all the way down the lineup, has got to have their A-game. We need more from everyone. We have a really good group in there. We are going back to a building we have played well in all year, and we got to keep the confidence in our game and trust ourselves. You know, there is still plenty of series left."
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
Colorado now owns a record of 26-20 in Game 4s of best-of-seven series.
Mikko Rantanen saw his postseason 17-game point streak come to an end. He had found the scoresheet in each Avalanche playoff game dating back to Game 3 of Round 1 last year against the Arizona Coyotes. He had 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in the run, and he became the first NHL player with points in 17 straight playoff contests since Al MacInnis (19 games) with Calgary from 1989 to 1990.
Brandon Saad, who had a five-game goal streak snapped on Friday, has scored in six of the last seven contests and is tied for third in the league with six markers. Saad's six goals are his most since scoring a career-best eight during the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kiefer Sherwood recorded eight hits, a game high and the most by an Avalanche player in the 2021 postseason.