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5 Keys: Sharks at Avalanche, Game 4

San Jose has chance to take 3-1 series lead; Colorado must manage puck better

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

SHARKS at AVALANCHE

10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

San Jose leads best-of-7 series 2-1

The San Jose Sharks will try to take a 3-1 series lead against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round at Pepsi Center on Thursday.

Teams with a 3-1 lead in a best-of-7 series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have won the series 90.5 percent of the time (277-29).

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

The Sharks are 10-1 in series they have taken a 3-1 lead. The Avalanche are 0-4 in series they have fallen behind 3-1.

Here are 5 keys to Game 4:

 

1. Stop the rush

The Sharks did not allow many rush chances in their 4-2 win in Game 3. A glaring exception: A goal by Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon that came after Sharks defenseman Brent Burns had a stretch pass intercepted in the neutral zone.

Not only do the Sharks want to keep the Avalanche from using their speed and skill, they want to force them into mistakes.

Video: SJS@COL, Gm3: MacKinnon comes off bench and scores

 

2. Manage the puck

When the Sharks clogged the neutral zone in Game 3, the Avalanche did not respond well in the first and second periods. Coach Jared Bednar was blunt about their puck play.

"It was bad," Bednar said. "Our execution was poor, and our support was poor. We just didn't make the right decisions with the puck in the neutral zone."

The Avalanche did a better job of taking what they were given in the third period.

"I think you can't just live and die by the rush," forward Alexander Kerfoot said. "I think they're doing a really good job of getting guys above the puck and they're limiting our chances. We can't be so stubborn with the puck. We've got to get it deep."

 

3. Forecheck

The Sharks have Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense. The Avalanche have Tyson Barrie, Samuel Girard and Cale Makar.

"We've got to forecheck those [defensemen] and force them to play hard minutes in their own end," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "I'm sure you go into their room and ask them, they're going to give you the same answer."

Yep.

"If you're making Burns and Karlsson turn and have to go back for pucks, then it's harder for them to get up in the rush and create offense," Kerfoot said. "By the third period [of Game 3], it looked like they were a little bit tired. They were flipping some pucks out into the neutral zone."

 

4. Challenge Makar

Makar has flashed his talent in the playoffs and has four points (one goal, three assists) in six games. But he's still a 20-year-old who is 5-foot-11, 187 pounds, and jumped into the postseason straight out of college.

He has a lot to learn against a veteran Sharks team that can be tough to handle physically.

"There's a couple goals against that he's been on for where there's net-front battles," Bednar said. "He's still trying to figure out what he can get away with in front of the net when he's defending. We're trying to give him as much advice there as we can, because you can get away with a lot this time of the year."

 

5. Keep the pedal down

This is a bigger game than it looks for the Sharks in terms of winning four rounds.

They survived a seven-game, first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights, and they're beaten up. Now they have a chance to set up a close-out scenario at home in Game 5 on Saturday.

A short series could help considerably. Forward Joe Pavelski, their captain, hasn't played since he was injured in Game 7 against Vegas but is skating on his own.

"These, for me, are the crossroad-type games where you can really take control of a series if you can come up and not take your foot off the gas," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "And that's got to be on us."

Sharks projected lineup

Timo Meier -- Logan Couture - Gustav Nyquist

Evander Kane -- Tomas Hertl -- Lukas Radil

Marcus Sorensen -- Joe Thornton -- Kevin Labanc

Micheal Haley -- Barclay Goodrow -- Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon -- Erik Karlsson

Joakim Ryan -- Justin Braun

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

Scratched: Dylan Gambrell, Tim Heed, Radim Simek, Antti Suomela.

Injured: Joe Pavelski (undisclosed), Joonas Donskoi (undisclosed)

Avalanche projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog -- Nathan MacKinnon - Alexander Kerfoot

Colin Wilson -- Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen

Matt Calvert -- J.T. Compher -- Matt Nieto

Gabriel Bourque -- Tyson Jost -- Derick Brassard

Samuel Girard -- Cale Makar

Nikita Zadorov -- Tyson Barrie

Ian Cole -- Erik Johnson

Philipp Grubauer

Semyon Varlamov

Scratched: Sven Andrighetto, Mark Barberio, Ryan Graves, Vladislav Kamenev, Patrik Nemeth

Injured: None

Status report

DeBoer said he "heard good, positive things" but didn't have details regarding Pavelski, who was scheduled to skate in San Jose on Wednesday. Pavelski and Donskoi will each miss their fourth straight game. … Calvert is expected to play after missing Game 3 with an upper-body injury.

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