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On one Zoom video conference late Friday night, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar was taking his roster in general and top players in particular to task for their lack of want-to.
On the other Zoom video conference, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer was complimenting his entire lineup in general and top players in particular for their play in the Knights’ 3-2 win in Game 3.
And, yes, the comments echo just how obvious the disparity was as the Knights stormed back into the teams’ second-round playoff series.
The Knights’ top two forward lines combined for three goals and three assists, including second-line winger Jonathan Marchessault’s tying marker with 5:08 remaining and first-line winger Max Pacioretty’s tip-in winner 45 seconds later.
“I thought all our big guys were great,” DeBoer said. “Our whole team was great. Your best players have to be your best players and we had everybody pulling in the right direction.”
Marchessault’s tying goal came when he banked a shot off the back of Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer. Pacioretty’s winner came when he deflected a point shot by defenseman Nick Holden.
“(The tying) goal really got us going and you just have a feeling the next one is going to come and so when that floater comes in from (Holden), you have more confidence you’re going to tip it and that’s how it played out,” Pacioretty said.
Pacioretty missed the first six games of the Minnesota series with an injury, but has steadily regained his form in the Colorado series. He had eight shots on goal on Friday.
“That’s as normal as Patch has looked,” DeBoer said. “He came back for Game 7 of the Minnesota series with very little practice time and I thought he played on adrenaline and gave us a really good boost that night. Tonight was the first night I thought he started to look like his old self again. He was big, he was heavy, he was attacking, he had some good looks and obviously, (he scored) a huge goal at the end.”
The Knights outshot the Avalanche 41-25 in Game 2 (Avs overtime win) and 43-20 in Game 3. That steady offense has helped the Knights bottle up the Avs’ top unit of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog. In 5-on-5 play the last two games, the line has no goals and no assists.
“You don’t want to say we’re defending them; we want to make them defend and it’s no secret that’s the way to play against the top guys in the league,” Pacioretty said. “MacKinnon is probably the fastest guy in the league and if you let him wind up his speed coming back from his end, he’s going to make you pay so we want to play down in their end and have them waste energy.”
Captain Mark Stone credited Chandler Stephenson, who centers the Knights’ top line of Stone and Pacioretty, with being the defensive catalyst.
“You’re not going to completely eliminate them,” Stone said. “They’re going to get their chances. They’re one of the best lines in the league for a reason, but we see us as one of the best lines as well. Chandler’s speed has been key for that. He skates the middle of the ice as well as anybody in this league and we’re trying to create O-zone time and force them to (play) 200 feet. You turn the puck over to MacKinnon, he’s gone and it puts a ton of pressure on your d-man.”
Bednar shuffled all four forward lines in the third period looking for an offensive pulse. The Knights, meanwhile, rolled four lines in the third period; their fourth line had six shifts.
“We’re not a real match-up team,” DeBoer said. “We want to get into that four-line rhythm and that’s always when we play our best.”
The Knights’ best game made this a series. Down 2-0 for the first time in franchise history, they created tons of offense and fed off their home crowd.
“We just stuck with it,” DeBoer said. “We kept our belief in our game, which I think has been in a good place if you throw out Game 1. Even back to the last game of the season when we played (the Avs) here for first place overall (and lost), we’ve played some pretty good periods of hockey against them.
“The crowd was so awesome. The full building was so great. It was so nice to be back in that type of atmosphere again and they were huge in the third period for us, sticking with us and keeping the energy levels up.”