CENTENNIAL, Colo.--Defenseman Samuel Girard will be back in the lineup when the Colorado Avalanche opens its Round 2 Stanley Cup Playoff series against the San Jose Sharks on Friday night at SAP Center.
Girard missed the final three contests of the team's first-round victory against the Calgary Flames after suffering an upper-body injury in Game 2.
The Roberval, Quebec, native was on the other end of a hit from Calgary's Sam Bennett early in the overtime period. He was able to leave the ice on his own power, but did not return to play. Nathan MacKinnon scored the OT-winner in the contest to even the series at 1-1 and begin a run of four-straight victories by the Avalanche.
"It's tough, you always want to play," Girard said Thursday after taking part in his first full practice since getting hurt. "It's so nice to be in the playoffs, and when you're watching the game you just want to be on the ice and help the team to win. I'm very happy to be back for the game tomorrow."
Girard had been paired with Erik Johnson for most of the season, but head coach Jared Bednar switched up his combinations following the injury and the arrival of rookie D-man Cale Makar at the same time. Johnson started the remaining games with Ian Cole, while Tyson Barrie and Nikita Zadorov made up another pairing. Makar began each outing with Patrik Nemeth.
The exact defensive groupings for Game 1 in San Jose likely won't be revealed until after Friday's morning skate.
"There has been lots of thoughts, but that will be determined later," Bednar said of the D-pairings.
The Avalanche bench boss also noted that going with a lineup that features 11 forwards and seven defensemen is an option instead of scratching a healthy rear guard and going with a more traditional alignment.
"There is a pretty good balance here, and we have lots of options now," Bednar said. "The reality is we will probably end up scratching a healthy D that has helped us in the past, or a healthy forward that has helped us in the past. It is just tough decisions, but they are good decisions to make this time of year because it's all about team and winning."
Girard has participated in each of the team's three practices this week, with him wearing a red, non-contact jersey during Monday and Tuesday's sessions. He seemed to benefit from the Avs having a full week between games, as they ended their series versus the Flames last Friday.
"We won in five against Calgary, and we had [a couple] days break. It's nice for me, especially to take care of my body," Girard said. "And for everyone, we had a couple days off and practiced as well. I think we're ready for tomorrow."
Girard didn't miss a game during the season, skating in all 82 contests. Since arriving in Colorado from the Nashville Predators via a three-team trade that also included the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5, 2017, Girard has appeared in 150 consecutive regular-season contests, the longest active streak on the club.
He finished his second pro campaign this year ranked second among all team defensemen in scoring with 27 points (four goals, 23 assists).
With Girard's return, the Avalanche will be nearly 100 percent healthy. The only player on the club's injured list is forward Vladislav Kamenev, who is making progress in his recovery from shoulder surgery after getting hurt on Dec. 8 at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Having a healthy and rested lineup can't be said for the Sharks, who wrapped up a bruising seven-game series against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night. The final two games went to overtime.
San Jose has several players that are dealing with injuries after a physical Round 1 bout versus Vegas. Bednar said his team needs to match that high intensity in what will likely be a tough conference semifinals.
"You got to be able to stop pucks up in your own zone," he said. "When you get into 1-on-1 battles and corner battles, you can't allow them to work their way out of that. So getting in the right position and being able to close those guys off and set layers and be physical. If they have it on their sticks, we got to pop pucks and keep it off their sticks. So it's not just an easy play skating out and finding the open man because they can move the puck."
Defenseman Samuel Girard on suffering injuries in back-to-back playoff campaigns: "It happens. It won't be my last injury of my career, so the only thing I can do is take care of my body and make sure that I'm back. I'm very happy to play tomorrow."
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer on the Sharks' offense: "I think the whole group is dangerous. The whole D group, they can score, they always join the rush. They're really dangerous on the power play like you saw last game, they scored four goals in a couple [minutes] there. We got to stay out of our box first of all and play our game."
Forward Matt Nieto on the key to Game 1: "I think it is just focusing on the first shift. Come out with a lot of energy, flying around. We're a really fast group in here and just be smart with the puck. They have dangerous guys over there, just like Calgary did where if you're not managing the puck they'll capitalize. Be smart, play hard."
Head Coach Jared Bednar on the Avalanche's chances in the playoffs: "You make it to this point, you're the final eight teams. That should be your feeling going into the playoffs anyway. The parity in the league says that you finished top 16, you should have a seat and prayer and chance to win. You have to win four rounds to do that. We won the first round, now let's reset. The second round isn't going to be any easier than the first round and as it goes up because the intensity just keeps getting ramped up. Certainly we feel at this point that if we play the way we can, we can win."