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MacKinnon feels fresh despite workload, is playoff hero for Avalanche

Forward plays more than 26 minutes in Game 2, scores overtime goal to even series with Flames

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

CALGARY -- The overtime fare was laid out on a table in the Colorado Avalanche dressing room near midnight: a huge bowl of fruit, three loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter, raw almond butter and strawberry jam, and a plastic bear filled with honey.

Maybe 10 feet away, Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon was holding court with reporters, and whether he had needed any of this high-energy fuel was a question that went unasked.

 

[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

MacKinnon had just played hero in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round, having scored the winner at 8:27 of overtime to give the Avalanche a 3-2 victory against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. The best-of-7 series, now tied 1-1, moves to Pepsi Center in Denver for Game 3 on Monday (10 p.m. ET: CNBC, ALT, TVAS2, CBC).

Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: MacKinnon wins it after Grubauer save

"I felt great. I felt fresh," MacKinnon said, having played exactly 24 minutes in regulation time with another 2:26 in overtime. "That's why I take care of myself, so I can play in OT."

The winning goal was far from the greasy effort you usually expect when a playoff game goes beyond 60 minutes. Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer brilliantly turned aside Flames forward Michael Frolik at one end of the rink and Colorado took off in the other direction. Defenseman Ian Cole to forward Mikko Rantanen, who fed a speeding MacKinnon on left wing. The Colorado sniper made no mistake, rifling a 37-foot shot high past Calgary goalie Mike Smith's glove side that spoiled the party for a crowd of 19,289.

"It's just instinct," MacKinnon said of his shot selection. "I didn't really think. I think that's when everybody plays their best, being instinctual and going off how they feel and not really thinking too much or overthinking. I just put it where I wanted to."

This was a very different Avalanche team than the one that lost Game 1 to the Flames 4-0. 

"It is going to come down to some of the grit and determination and willingness to hang onto the puck and generate offensively like we have all year," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said before Game 2. "We were a little bit tentative (in Game 1) and weren't in attack mode enough. That has been a strength of our game all year and we've got to make sure we are playing to our strengths in this series as well."

Bednar would also speak about getting "traffic to the net and then attack out of chaos."

The coach got all of that, in quantity, on Saturday.

The chaos began early with scrambles and rumbles at both ends of the ice, Smith even channeling his inner Billy Smith by offering Colorado's Derick Brassard a blocker sandwich that would earn them both roughing minors 4:34 into the first period.

Where the Avalanche had just seven first-period shots in Game 1, they had 15 on Saturday. Colorado had a 39-37 shots advantage by the end of Game 2, and an even larger disparity in shot attempts (84-60). MacKinnon had seven shots on goal and 12 attempts.

Video: MacKinnon scores in OT, Avalanche even series

"I think we got a lot of good movement going," he said of a Colorado attack that often swarmed the Calgary end, showing great puck control that kept the Flames on their heels for long stretches. 

"There was a lot of assistance from our (defense). I thought that was the best game they've played in a long time - how active they were and how involved they were all over the ice. There was a lot of fun."

MacKinnon's 26:26 ice time was the game-high among forwards, only Flames defenseman Mark Giordano (28:55) and Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie (28:13) saw more action.

It was MacKinnon's second consecutive industrial-strength night of work, having played 25:04 in Game 1, and he can expect pretty much the same moving forward.

"I think that's what I'm going to play," he said with a grin. "That's a lot. Twenty-five is a lot for sure, but whenever (Bednar) says to go, I'm going to go."

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who played a healthy 25:54, had a good look at MacKinnon's winner.

"It's a good feeling. There's nothing like … Stanley Cup overtime," he said. "I've said it before: Nate's a superstar and that's what superstars do."

The winning goal doesn't happen without Grubauer's save on Frolik.

"It's a great stop by (Grubauer)," Landeskog said. "It's a bang-bang play coming from behind the net. Grubby finds a way. I think he gets a glove on it and it turns the other way. Nate was skating like it was the first period, first shift. That's the kind of speed he's got and he's in great shape. Mikko makes a nice play to him. That's what good players do."

It was a happy and relieved Avalanche team that returns to Denver on Sunday, having worked overtime to even the series.

"That's the least we came here for," Landeskog said. "We would've liked to win both games, but a 1-1 split, we'll take that. Now it's a matter of us coming home and repeating this effort."

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