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Its top unit is slumping, its defensemen are under siege from a relentless opponent and its entire roster is struggling to win battles. What can the Avalanche hang its collective hat on entering Tuesday’s critical Game 5 playoff game against Vegas?
Its arena. Its ice. Its last change. And its fans.
“The part of what gives me confidence is the way our team has played at home and the energy we’ve been able to come out with and our legs, our skating, our tenacity on pucks,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said Monday. “I know our guys will be excited.”
The Avalanche are 20-0-1 in its last 21 home games and excitement is great. And then the game starts, and it must solve the Vegas riddle so the Knights can’t take the teams’ second-round series home with a 3-2 lead.
The trends are alarming.
The Knights are getting too many shots — 119 in the past three games.
The Avalanche aren’t getting enough chances — 63 shots in the past three games.
And the Knights are getting consistent production — six points from their top line and 14 points from their second line in the series.
A team used to having positive vibes, the Avalanche must now scheme a way to seize the momentum back.
“Once a team kind of gets going, you have to fight extra hard to steal that momentum one piece at a time,” Bednar said. “You have to face the adversity head on and you have to be confident in what you’re doing and there has to be trust within your group that each of those guys on the ice is going to do their job.”
Playing more in the Knights zone will help, too. Power plays come with offensive end puck possession and the Avalanche have struggled to stress the Knights.
“Our defense as a whole has been under duress,” Bednar said. “Right now, we’re spending too much time in our half of the rink and when it’s time to go play offense, we’re ready to make (line) changes. That’s not an easy game to play.”
Hard to play against has been the Knights’ second line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, who have taken over the series — six goals and six assists in the last three games.
“They’ve gotten hot at the right time,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “They look unstoppable right now.”
The Avalanche’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen was unstoppable against St. Louis and Game 1 of the Vegas series — 14 goals and 18 assists in the first five playoff games. But they have only two goals and two assists in the last three games.
“We’re trying to make them go 200 feet for a scoring chance,” Knights captain Mark Stone said. “In Game 1, we didn’t do a great job at that. We were a little sloppy and we let them free-wheel. … I think we gave them a little too much respect in Game 1. After the first period of Game 2, we realized we could play with these guys.”
The Knights and Avalanche tied for the NHL lead with 82 points and have slugged it out for four games. In reality, that this series is now a best-of-three is fitting although the route to this point semi-unexpected with a 7-1 Avs win in Game 1 and a 5-1 Vegas in in Game 4 sandwiching one-goal wins for each team.
“Right now, they’re making it harder on us than we are on them,” Bednar said. “It’s not unique to our series that a team catches momentum and starts to go. It’s up to us to take it from them.”
Footnotes. Bednar said rookie defenseman Bo Byram is a consideration to make his NHL playoff debut in Game 5. “The concern with Bo is he hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last year-and-a-half and hasn’t played (since March 25),” Bednar said. “To go into (a series) against a team like Vegas is a tall task for a young player.” … Last year the Avs trailed Dallas 3-1, but won Games 6-7. “You have to rehash that a little bit at this point because we learned some valuable lessons in those playoffs and we’ve talked briefly even during this series about last year’s Dallas series,” Bednar said. “We’re sitting in better spot now than we were then.”