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To sum up the offensive struggles of the Avalanche top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen in the past three games: They’re being outshined by the Vegas Golden Knights’ second line.
MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen: Combined two goals and two assists (four points).
Reilly Smith, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault: Six goals and six assists (12 points).
The Avalanche escaped with a Game 2 overtime win, but Vegas’ second line was dominant in its two home-ice wins, including Sunday’s 5-1 victory when Marchessault had a hat trick and Karlsson three assists.
“They always play well and always play hard and are defensively responsible, but the puck wasn’t going in for them at different points (of the regular season),” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said after his team evened the series 2-2. “They’ve gotten hot at the right time.
“They look unstoppable right now.”
Marchessault tied the game at 7:07 of the first period after Smith’s nifty shot hit the goal-post.
Marchessault extended the lead to 3-1 midway through the second on a power play goal and he completed the hat trick at 6:01 of the third period.
“It’s amazing, honestly,” he said of the hats that rained onto the ice. “We’ve waited for the fans to come back and be loud again. It’s been a treat.”
A treat for the Knights’ second line and terror for the Avalanche’s first line. No goals. No assists. And each were a minus-2.
The Knights broke out offensively in Game 4, but have been suffocating defensively since the second period of Game 2.
“We’re playing as a unit of five on the ice all over the place,” said winger Max Pacioretty, who scored Vegas’ second goal. “We’re not cheating for offense, we’re sticking to our structure and as you can see, it’s frustrating for teams to place against. The team that strays away from their structure runs into problems and that’s what we did in the first game.”
Said Knights captain Mark Stone: “We’re trying to make them go 200 feet for a scoring chance. In Game 1, we didn’t do a great job at that. We were a little sloppy and we let them free-wheel.
“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.”
Vegas did what it had to do — hold serve on home ice to make this a best-of-three series. Now it has to win one game in Denver.
“We’re on a mission right now and we’re focused on Game 5 and bringing it back to Vegas and being in a good spot,” Marchessault said.