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Second Round

Avalanche confident in young defense pair heading into Game 3

Girard, Makar providing Colorado with quality minutes in series against Sharks

by Rick Sadowski / NHL.com Correspondent

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Colorado Avalanche aren't concerned about pairing 20-year-old defensemen Samuel Girard and Cale Makar, and they plan on doing so again against the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round at Pepsi Center on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Colorado tied the best-of-7 series with a 4-3 win in Game 2.

"We wouldn't be playing them together and playing them the amount of minutes they're playing if they didn't deserve it and earned it," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Monday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

Although both are on the smaller side -- Girard is 5-feet-10, 162 pounds; Makar is 5-11, 187 -- each is effective at controlling the puck and using his speed to move it to forwards like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

"We have huge confidence in those guys," goalie Philipp Grubauer said. "They can move the puck, they can skate. The way they communicate with each other and break the pucks out, that's huge. They are fun to watch. You don't need to be the biggest guy on the ice."

Girard, who is in his second NHL season, was plus-1 and had two shots on goal in 15:43 of ice time in Game 2. Makar, who was playing in his fifth NHL game, had three shots, one hit and one takeaway in 14:57.

"My goal as coach is to try and get them out in situations where they can succeed and help us on the offensive side of things," Bednar said. "I don't worry about those guys very much defensively because they're both elite players and are playing at a high level right now. Defensively, they're highly committed, so that's a plus. They are able to move pucks in and out of our zone."

Video: Avalanche tie their series, Hurricanes go up 2-0

Bednar mentioned a shift in the third period of Game 2 when Girard and Makar helped the Avalanche maintain control in the Sharks zone for about 45 seconds.

"They just controlled the puck up top. They're not throwing it away, they're making smart plays," he said. "They get a few plays to the net and were recovering pucks and using their feet, and they're tough to check."

Girard was acquired by Colorado from the Nashville Predators as part of a three-team trade that had the Avalanche send center Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5, 2017. He had 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 82 games this season and returned to the lineup in Game 1 against San Jose after missing the final three games of the first-round series against the Calgary Flames because of an upper-body injury.

"Me and Cale, we're two good skaters," Girard said. "Cale is so good on his feet, and he's actually good defensively, too. Offensively, we all know he's got some good skill. We need to bring some offense and make sure we play good defensively as well."

Makar was selected by the Avalanche with the No. 4 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and played the past two seasons at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, winning the 2019 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA men's hockey before signing a three-year, entry-level contract April 14 following the Minutemen's loss to Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA championship game. 

Video: Avalanche even the series, Hurricanes take a 2-0 lead

The following day, he made his NHL debut and scored the game-winning goal in a 6-2 win against Calgary in Game 3 of the first round.

"He's been an elite player everywhere he's been, and now he gets here and it just doesn't seem like anything fazes him," Bednar said.

In five Stanley Cup Playoff games, Makar has three points (one goal, two assists) and is averaging 17:43 of ice time.

"It's really fun to play with [Girard], he's a fast guy and very dynamic," Makar said. "When you have two guys who can move the puck fast, guys who like to go up the ice really quick, it's fun to play together. We want to create offense and stuff and try to keep it in the zone and create chances, but at the end of the day, we're just trying to be players out there and make some plays."

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