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Avalanche outplayed but defeat Golden Knights in Game 2

Ability to dominate, win tight games sends strong message to rest of playoff field

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

Nathan MacKinnon didn't have a point through three periods. Nor did Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog or Cale Makar. The Colorado Avalanche had been outshot 40-23, including a combined 31-12 in the second and third periods.

So the Vegas Golden Knights won, right?


The Avalanche won, anyway.

They won 3-2 in overtime in Denver on Wednesday and took a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Second Round, thanks to a power-play goal by Rantanen at 2:07 of overtime, 39 saves by Philipp Grubauer and a little help from Grubauer's goal posts.

That should concern the Golden Knights, who were far better than they were in a 7-1 loss in Game 1 but must be even better in Game 3 in Las Vegas on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

And that should scare the rest of the NHL, as if anyone wasn't frightened already.

The Avalanche are on a six-game winning streak to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They can dominate you, as they showed by winning each of their first five games by three goals or more, and they can eke one out too, as they showed Wednesday.

"If I look at the two games we played [against Vegas], the first one we played really well and then not our best game but still find a way," Rantanen said. "That's what we've been doing the whole year. Sometimes we haven't been feeling it, and [Grubauer has] been playing awesome and stealing some wins for us like today. But that's what you need if you want to win the Cup."

To appreciate how deep this team is, consider that when Brandon Saad gave Colorado a 1-0 lead in the first period, he stretched his goal-scoring streak to five games. The Avalanche have the likes of MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog and Makar, and they still have a forward who won the Stanley Cup twice, with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, and can produce like this.

Also consider that Colorado had four power plays in the first period, and it was not the first unit but the second unit that cashed in to make it 2-1. Forward Tyson Jost scored his second of the playoffs. Again, that's depth.

"I liked our first period," coach Jared Bednar said. "We were skating, drawing penalties, winning a lot of races, winning a lot of puck battles. And in the final 40 minutes, we didn't do that."

The Golden Knights took over in the second and third. They didn't allow the Avalanche's offensive stars time and space. They blocked shots. They won battles and generated scoring chances.

But they never took the lead thanks to Grubauer and his goal posts.

Grubauer, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this season, got a piece of a Jonathan Marchessault shot late in the second, just enough that the puck went off the post.

Early in the third, Reilly Smith hit a post, and then Grubauer stopped a Max Pacioretty rush chance. Later in the third, Grubauer stopped Alex Tuch all alone in front.

Video: VGK@COL, Gm2: Grubauer denies Tuch with glove save

Finally, during a Vegas power play late in the third, Smith hit a post. Grubauer got his glove on another Marchessault shot and absorbed a point shot through traffic to keep the game tied.

"He bailed us out today," Rantanen said. "I think he had a really, really good game, and he kept us in the game. He was basically the reason why we got to OT. … [Grubauer] was awesome and for sure the best player in the game."

The winning goal might have summed up Colorado's potency and Vegas' predicament. 

Smith took an offensive-zone penalty when he slashed Rantanen's stick out of his hands off a face-off. Not a good penalty to take in that situation. Not a good penalty to take against this particular team.

The Golden Knights tried to keep the puck away from MacKinnon on the penalty kill, as they tried to do in all situations all night. They tried to cut off the passing lane from Makar at the point to MacKinnon on the left flank. Good idea. MacKinnon had eight goals in his first five playoff games.

But eventually Makar got the puck to MacKinnon, who spun away from Golden Knights forward William Karlsson to create space, found a seam and fired a cross-ice pass to the right circle.

Rantanen took the pass and fired the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury, and that was it. 

Video: VGK@COL, Gm2: Rantanen rifles PPG home in overtime

If you're the Golden Knights, you write off the lopsided loss in Game 1 to fatigue after a seven-game series against the Minnesota Wild in the first round and one day of rest. You remind yourselves you played better in Game 2, haven't lost a home game yet, went 4-4-0 against the Avalanche in the regular season and tied them in points (82), losing the Presidents' Trophy to them due to the regulation-wins tiebreaker (35-30).

If you're the Avalanche, you feel good knowing you can win without your 'A' game.

"It wasn't our best game; we know that," Rantanen said. "But that's what we need. We need to find a way even when we don't play our best."

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