Way back on Thursday, with the Colorado Avalanche leading Vegas 2-0 in their series and still talking about how motivated they were to improve their performance, I asked, rhetorically, “How much better can you be than undefeated after six playoff games? I guess we’ll find out.”
It’s Monday, and I’m still waiting on an answer. The Avs laid eggs on Friday and Sunday, getting doubled up on shots and allowing two late goals to lose Game 3, 3-2, and then getting nearly doubled up on shots and allowing early, middle, and late goals to lose Game 4 by a 5-1 score. In the span of one weekend, they went from untouchable to alarmingly vulnerable, and now the most hotly anticipated series of the second round is dead even, with a best-of-three left to decide supremacy between the top two teams of the regular season.
Though the entirety of the game feels like a real mess in retrospect, the Knights’ crushing one-two punch early in the third is what Colorado might find the hardest to shake off. It started when Zach Whitecloud took a delay of game penalty not two minutes into the final period, with the Lanche Boys down 3-1. The Avs power play—which is terrifying!—hadn’t really gotten a full chance to cook all game, and so they took the ice with that sort of crazed, hungry, Wile E. Coyote look in their eyes. But they did not score, and they would not score for the rest of the game, and they let Vegas gift their fans a long opportunity to celebrate instead.
The Avs power play did look scary and intimidating in these two minutes, but the Knights did a fantastic job of hustling to get their bodies in between the pucks and the net. Colorado didn’t manage a single shot on goal during the man advantage—not because they didn’t fire attempts towards the goalie or hold possession in the offensive zone, but because the Vegas kill did its part to disrupt every chance the Avs could half-manufacture.
A couple of minutes later, a guy who I’m comfortable calling the heart and soul of this Vegas franchise finished off a hat trick at the other end to officially start the party. Jonathan Marchessault picked up his 20th playoff goal for Vegas since 2018, and his first playoff hat trick, with a close-range tap-in past a flustered Philipp Grubauer.
He scored, the fans jumped out of their seats, and the hats, as they do, kept falling and falling and falling onto the ice. (From the bench, even!) And more than the goal itself, the fact that it took frickin’ forever to clean up the playing surface allowed the reality to sink in that Vegas has not just hit the reset button on the series, but completely swung the balance of psychological power in their favor. I timed it, and five minutes and five seconds elapsed between the Marchessault goal and the refs dropping the puck again. That’s five minutes and five seconds of the Avalanche just hanging around, seeing the score at 4-1, and trying their best to regroup and remember how dominant they were at the start of these encounters.
Unlike the Avs, you can enjoy some of the clean-up, if you’d like:
Five minutes and five seconds, coincidentally, is about how close the Avs were to sealing a 3-0 series lead back in Game 3. Guess who helped ruin it then? I won’t actually make you guess. It was Marchessault, at 14:42, who tied the game by alertly bonking the puck off Grubauer before Max Pacioretty got the winner a blink of an eye later.
That’s ancient history by now, though. It’s impossible to talk about what the Avs need to do moving forward without resorting to clichés—they gotta bear down, brush it off, execute better, play their game, take it one game at a time, and, obviously, get pucks in deep. All of those obscure what they actually have to do, which is win two out of the next three, however they can. For a team that came into the weekend on an 11-game win streak, that shouldn’t be so hard. But thanks in large part to Marchessault, it suddenly feels like an enormous mountain to climb.