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MacKinnon finds another way to boost Avalanche in Game 4

Gritty goal 'that's not me' gives them lead against Sharks in series-tying win

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

DENVER -- What more can be said about Nathan MacKinnon?

Well, listen to one of his teammates after the Colorado Avalanche's 3-0 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round at Pepsi Center on Thursday.

"If he's not the best player in the world right now, I don't know who is," Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said.

 

[WATCH: Sharks vs. Avalanche Game 4 highlights | Complete series coverage]

 

The center scored for the third straight game and extended his point streak to eight games. He shares the Stanley Cup Playoff scoring lead (13 points; six goals, seven assists) with teammate Mikko Rantanen. MacKinnon also led Avalanche skaters in ice time (23:33) and shots on goal (seven) in this market's biggest game in years.

Colorado reached six playoff wins for the first time since 2004. The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 at San Jose on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"Thank God he's on our team, because he'd made a lot of us look silly, that's for sure," Johnson said. "But what a player. He's clearly on a different level right now and just feeling it. He's going to take us as far as he wants to."

Video: MacKinnon keeps his playoff point streak going in win

MacKinnon flashed his speed and skill.

On one rush, he danced around Brent Burns, the 2016-17 winner of the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL and a finalist again this season, only to blow a shot high. Another time, he had a chance at the side of the net, only to have goalie Martin Jones get his left pad down in time. On another rush, he kicked the puck to his stick in stride in the neutral zone, charged straight at defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and wired a shot on goal.

Even amid a playoff series, when opponents are loathe to praise each other, the Sharks couldn't help but show respect.

"He's really, really good," San Jose forward Tomas Hertl said. "He needs just three steps and he's gone. For sure, one of the fastest players in the NHL."

But the interesting part was that MacKinnon's goal was greasy.

In a 4-2 loss in Game 3, the Avalanche were too stubborn trying to force plays against a thick Sharks defense. They came into Game 4 saying they needed to do more dirty work, getting pucks deep, going to the net.

Midway through Game 4, the question was who was going to make something happen and how.

"I kind of had the feeling whoever was going to score first was going to win," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "They got the goal."

Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar took a shot from above the right face-off circle. Rantanen deflected the puck on net, and Jones made the save. But the rebound popped into the air. MacKinnon went to the net and batted it in on his second try.

MacKinnon looked like Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, his close friend and mentor.

Video: SJS@COL, Gm4: MacKinnon bats in opening goal

"That's a Sid thing," MacKinnon said. "I don't know. That's not me. One of the first times I've ever done that. It felt good."

The Avalanche led 1-0 at 10:34 of the second period.

"He came back to the bench, and I just told him that's not one we usually see out of him," Johnson said. "It just shows the best players go to the gritty areas to score goals. If you want to score, that's where you've got to go. He's going to have his highlight-reel goals coming off the rush like he does, but if he adds that element to his game, which I know he can do and he's shown he can, he'll get 50 (in a season)."

MacKinnon is putting himself in good company.

His six goals are the most by a Colorado player since Joe Sakic scored seven in 2004.

His 13 points are the most by a Colorado player since 2002, when Peter Forsberg had 27, Sakic had 19, Alex Tanguay had 13 and Greg de Vries had 13.

His eight-game point streak is the longest by a Colorado player since Forsberg had an eight-game streak in 2002.

With 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 22 NHL playoff games, he's averaging 1.32 points per game. That's highest among active players and fifth-highest in NHL history among players with at least 20 postseason points, behind Newsy Lalonde (2.08), Wayne Gretzky (1.84), Mario Lemieux (1.61) and Barry Pederson (1.53).

Sitting in the stall next to where Sakic once dressed, MacKinnon said he had a good relationship with Sakic, now the Avalanche general manager. He said he had met Forsberg a few times. He said it was obviously really cool, but not how he hopes to follow their legacy. They won the Cup in 1996 and 2001.

"That's the goal," MacKinnon said. "If we don't ever win one, no one will really care about my eight-game point streak. If I get a 20-game point streak, we'll probably be in the Final. That's the way I look at it."

Look out.

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