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MacKinnon, Avalanche refused to quit in Game 7 loss to Sharks

Forward returned from shoulder injury as comeback falls short

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- Nathan MacKinnon exemplified the Colorado Avalanche's refusal to quit in the Western Conference Second Round.

The Avalanche forward sustained a shoulder injury 1:44 into Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday and had to leave the ice for medical attention.

After receiving treatment, MacKinnon returned with four minutes remaining in the first period. However, the Avalanche were trailing 2-0 by that point and couldn't recover enough to advance to the Western Conference Final, losing 3-2.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

"I hurt my shoulder on the first shift and got a shot in my shoulder so I could play after that," MacKinnon said. "It's tough. It's not ideal for sure. When your shoulder is pretty banged up pretty good, it's tough to play, but it's no excuse. It felt good enough to play and get a couple tonight."

MacKinnon was injured when he was skating up the ice during a Colorado power play. After he had his pass tipped in the neutral zone, he went toward the boards to lift the stick of Sharks defenseman Justin Braun and missed, falling awkwardly into the boards with his right shoulder.

"He would have had to have been stretchered off out of the building in order not to come back," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "That's the way I felt. That's the way our coaches felt. Our team was sure happy to get him back and he made a big difference right away in the belief of our group."

Video: Avalanche battled adversity early in Game 7 loss

Bednar refused to pin the loss on missing MacKinnon, who was not 100 percent when he returned to the game.

"That's not the deciding factor in the game," he said. "[San Jose was] the better team for too big a portion of tonight's game, and they won, and they deserved to win."

The stress during MacKinnon's absence, however, left the Avalanche chasing the game. Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl scored before MacKinnon returned and the Sharks never trailed Wednesday.

"It's your best player that goes off, there's all kinds of emotions and thoughts that go through your mind at that point, especially the second shift of the game," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "But I still think there's no reason for us to go down 2-0."

Video: COL@SJS, Gm7: MacKinnon exits with injury, returns

MacKinnon's competitiveness and hunger were key to his return, and he finished the game with three shots, two hits and was plus-1 in 20:59 of ice time.

"He's an elite skater and he's got a ton of skill, but one of the things that makes him so good is his competitiveness," Bednar said. "He's hungry to win. I've never seen a guy want to win more than this guy. That's in everything he does. He works so hard to make sure he's doing everything he can do to accomplish that.

"It didn't surprise me (that he returned). I knew he was hurt as soon as he got hit. They said he was going off to get looked at, and in my mind I'm going, 'OK, we've got to weather the storm a little bit until he gets back. Our guys will get a jolt when he comes back.' And we did. He's such a big part of our team."

MacKinnon had five points (three goals, two assists) in the series, but none in the final three games when the Sharks seemed to get a better handle on when to challenge his speed and crowd him when he tried to make plays, especially at home.

"They just had another good start," MacKinnon said. "We couldn't get a good start in this building all series, and I thought we outplayed them the last 40 minutes. We had some really good looks and really good chances, but we just couldn't score on them."

Bednar agreed.

"They were coming at us," he said. "The building was energized, and they were coming at us with everything they had and we were in survival mode there a little bit. We lost [MacKinnon] there early on that power play, and I think everyone was thinking, 'What's this mean now?' We tried to calm them down and keep them focused a little bit.

"I think the better team won every game in the series and it ends up 4-3, right down to the wire. You've got to tip your hat to the Sharks. They're a really good team. They deserved to win tonight because they outplayed us for large portions of the game. I'm sure they'll do well moving on."

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