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Avalanche prove future is now with Game 6 OT win against Sharks

Young group one victory from Western Conference Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche are supposed to be a team of the future. Dynamic young players. The No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. In a year, two years, three years, they're gonna be good, right?

Right.

But right now, already, they're one win from making the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

Forward Gabriel Landeskog scored 2:32 into overtime of Game 6 of the second round at Pepsi Center on Monday, giving the Avalanche a 4-3 win against the San Jose Sharks, tying the best-of-7 series 3-3 and forcing Game 7 in San Jose on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"The group that's in here right now, we don't think about it as next year," Landeskog said. "We don't think about it as the next two, three years or whatever. We're living in the moment, living in the present, and that's the only way you have to look at it. We don't want to say, 'Oh, well, we'll get 'em next year.' It doesn't work like that."

Not anymore, anyway.

The Avalanche have waited till next year too often in recent history. They missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times in 11 seasons from 2006-07 to 2016-17.

Video: SJS@COL, Gm6: Landeskog scores in OT to force Game 7

They made the playoffs last season. But center Nathan MacKinnon said they were just happy to be there and expected to lose. Sure enough, they lost to the Nashville Predators in six games.

This season? They were the second wild card into the playoffs from the West. But MacKinnon said they felt they could win the Stanley Cup. They upset the Calgary Flames, the first-place team in the West, in the first round in five games. Now they have a chance to upset the Sharks, the second-place team in the West, in seven.

"When you look at all the media and the people talking about us, I don't think they had us going that far anyway," goalie Philipp Grubauer said. "So we believe in this group, and we know we can do it."

Everyone knew the Avalanche had three outstanding forwards, who comprise one of the best lines, if not the best, in the League when together. MacKinnon (six goals, seven assists) and forward Mikko Rantanen (five goals, eight assists) have lived up to the hype with 13 points each. Landeskog hasn't been happy with his production, but he has seven points (three goals, four assists).

Video: SJS@COL, Gm6: Landeskog on OT goal, forcing Game 7

The disadvantage was supposed to be depth. Did the Avalanche have enough to match a team like, say, the Sharks? Through three periods Monday, Landeskog, Rantanen and MacKinnon each had zero points and was minus-3, but the score was 3-3 thanks to two goals by forward J.T. Compher, who had two goals in 16 playoff games previously, and one by center Tyson Jost, who had one goal 10 playoff games previously.

And who assisted on the winning goal? Cale Makar, the 20-year-old defenseman who won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. men's college hockey on April 12, played in the NCAA championship game the next day, signed with the Avalanche the next day, scored in his NHL debut the next day and is still enrolled in classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has six points (one goal, five assists) in nine games.

"Good teams have depth, and in big moments, guys step up," Makar said, sounding like an NHL veteran. "And J.T., lots of credit to him. He had a phenomenal game tonight, as well as a lot of other guys. It's really cool to know when that top line can't produce, other guys can step up. But I think it goes all the way down this team, and everybody is kind of equal."

Video: SJS@COL, Gm6: Compher nets backhander for second goal

The Avalanche have been resilient. They pushed to make the playoffs down the stretch. They lost Game 1 to Calgary, then won four straight. They have followed three losses with wins in this series. In Game 6, they gave up a goal with 9.8 seconds left in the second, tying the game 2-2, but came back and took a 3-2 lead in the third. They gave up a goal with 2:28 left in the third, tying the game 3-3, and came back and won it in overtime.

"I think we still knew we were playing well," Compher said. "We were playing good hockey. We were managing the game well. As long as we stick to that game plan, goals are going to happen. It's up and down, kind of a roller coaster in the playoffs. But we stuck to the game plan, and that's why we were successful."

Win Game 7, and they're in the conference final. The future is now.

"I'd say you guys might talk about the future more than us," Compher said. "We're here. We're here every day. We're in the present. We know how big of an opportunity this is. We've got guys playing in the League for a long time that haven't had this opportunity. It'll be a big test for us, but we're going to be ready to go for Game 7."

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