It pains me a little bit to write this, even though the Wings-Avs rivalry is a very distant memory, but I just have so many nice things to say about this Avalanche team. They beat the Blues 6-3 last night while everybody was engrossed in LeBron vs. Steph, and while they let up a little and made some mistakes in the third period to make it a closer game than it should have been, for the second game in a row Colorado made it difficult to imagine any other team being able to beat them in a series.
The undisputed first star of Wednesday was number-one center Nathan MacKinnon, who was the driving force in two-thirds of the Avs’ goals after scoring twice and assisting once in Game 1. The eight-minute highlights from Game 2 are essentially a ready-made best-of package for any awards MacKinnon may win this year. (Also present in the vid is Avs announcer Marc Moser’s extreme contrast on his goal calls for each side.)
There’s a turnover-turned-fast break for Nate three minutes into the game that’s worth your time even though it didn’t lead to a goal. There are a plethora of scary opportunities with his linemates Rantanen and Landeskog. He finally scores at 18:05 of the first with a wrist shot in a tight space that somehow finds its way to the back of the net. Then he fires a shot on the power play that gets tipped by Joonas Donskoi for the 3-0 lead.
“I know that about him: that he gets big in the playoffs,” Donskoi said afterwards.
Then, when things got a little nervy and it was 3-2 with five minutes to go, MacKinnon put eyes on the puck and dialed in from long distance to give the Avs some breathing room again. The Blues answered back quickly with a nonsense goal that made Nate’s second even more crucial, but MacKinnon returned once more with the game 5-3 to score the second of the Avs’ two empty-netters and earn the hat trick. (With real hats from real fans!)
Particularly with David Perron out due to COVID protocols, the Blues don’t have a prayer of matching this kind of production in a seven-game series. St. Louis can take some heart in knowing that, had they combined Jordan Binnington’s 46-save Game 1 with the scoring touch they found in Game 2, they could have maybe at least sent one of these to overtime. But by avoiding slip-ups at home and getting a two-game head start on this series, the Avalanche can probably sweat out whatever discipline (again) awaits second-line center Nazem Kadri, who KOed Justin Faulk with a dirty hit that led to a misconduct penalty and a power-play goal in the third.
To watch the Avs right now, particularly when their best players are on the ice, is a little like looking at the schedule for an unstoppable train headed straight for Tampa by way of Vegas and Toronto. There are little endearing things about them, though, that the train metaphor doesn’t quite capture. (Again, I grew up despising this team, so this is all the absolute highest praise imaginable.) Gabriel Landeskog is something like an ideal captain, a consistent 20-goal/30-assist guy whose lack of ego allows him to play third banana with a smile on his face. He’s set an edgy tone early on by fighting Brayden Schenn in Game 1 and then landing a big hit on former teammate Ryan O’Reilly at the start of Game 2, right before the first goal. And despite possessing an incredible face that surely contributed to MacKinnon describing him as “an absolute man-rocket,” he seems pretty chill even with his nose being crooked right now. (Apparently it happened in Detroit. Some things don’t change.)
Defenseman Ryan Graves, too, has become a bit of a fave around these parts. His scoring contributions are generally negligible—though his shot from the point helped lead to the first goal last night—but he’s just this big tall long-haired tank of a man who loves Halloween and makes huge hustle plays like this one, which saved a goal in Game 1. He’s fantastic.
Though they did get to beat up on the California teams in the regular season, the Avs’ Presidents’ Trophy was well-deserved, and particularly with the rival Knights struggling to get it going so far against the Wild, Colorado looks like the undisputed rulers of their quadrant. However, they’re still mad that they’re not doing better!
“We got outplayed the last 30 minutes of the game, so we need a response in Game 3, if anything,” MacKinnon said. “We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror for Game 3 in St. Louis and bring a better effort.”
Poor Jordan Binnington.