LAS VEGAS – After being outshot 83-45 over the last two games, a strong start was ever-more paramount for the Colorado Avalanche, and they delivered. The team had a team meeting on Saturday evening in Las Vegas. Instead of frozen drinks and anything else that might happen on the Vegas Strip, the Avalanche huddled to study film and work out their issues which allowed Vegas Golden Knights to dominate the last two games.
That lasted about one period.
Jonathan Marchessault popped a hat trick, and Vegas again swallowed up the Avalanche 5-1 at T-Mobile Arena. This is the kind of game that can break a series, a team, and have a rippling impact.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen combined for just five shots. Rantanen had three, Landeskog had none. Vegas pressured the Avs low in the zone, at the top of the zone, and everywhere else. Mistakes by Avalanche defensemen Patrick Nemeth and Sam Girard gave away the lead. Then the outcome was assured. The series is now tied, 2-2, but Vegas has dominated the last three games.
After taking his team to the woodshed verbally the last couple of days, Avs coach Jared Bednar tried to be the good cop after the loss. But he sounded like a guy searching a bit too hard for things to sound happy about.
“I didn’t have a problem with our intent and the purpose to our game and the way we competed,” he said. “For the most part, it was pretty good. We gave up some chances off the rush when they were beating us up the ice. They made some plays and got some chances but I think our work ethic was fine. The compete on the puck was much better. We still lost our fair share of the battles, that’s for sure. At least we entered the fight tonight and got in it. I didn’t like the results. They scored some timely goals. We missed on opportunities.”
Faint praise, indeed.
At least Game 4 started well.
Just under two minutes into the game, the Avalanche scored the important first goal of the game. Brandon Saad, whose five-game goal streak was snapped in Game 3, won his position battle in the Vegas crease, and VGK goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s gift-wrapped a rebound. Saad banged it in and cracked the fortress.
There was some confusion later in the first period. Avs defenseman Patrik Nemeth committed a ghastly turnover with a few feet of his own net. William Karlsson’s shot rang off the crossbar, but the Vegas crowd kept cheering and screaming like it was a goal. It appeared Philipp Grubauer was fooled and did not lunge back into position.
After a puck scramble, Jonathan Marchessault won that battle and snapped it into the yawning cage. 1-1.
The Avalanche largely held their ground in the first period. A far cry from getting pummeled in Games 2 and 3.
The Avalanche’s solid start was erased 71 seconds into the second period. Defenseman Sam Girard activated but was caught deep in the zone. Instead of recovering, he tried for a second bite at the apple. On the resulting three-on-two rush, Max Pacioretty (3) ripped a writer over Grubauer’s shoulder. 2-1.
Later in the second period, the Vegas Golden Knights scored their second power-play goal of the series. Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky touched off yet another face-washing scrum when he tried to dance around Alex Tuch but didn’t get enough clearance. Burakovsky earned the holding call, then J.T. Compher and Tuch earned roughing calls with some punches, pushes, and unpleasant comments.
On the ensuing Vegas power-play, Marchessault (4) pounded a one-timer from the LW circle. 3-1.
Yep, that good start was gone, just like the Avalanche series lead. And if something doesn’t change soon, the series will be gone, too. Vegas limited the Avs to just five shots in the second period.
Six minutes into the third period, Marchessault put the knight’s sword through the Avalanche’s heart. Yet another misplay by Nemeth allowed Marchessault to both get the puck in front and be uncovered. Marchessault (5) easily chipped the puck into an open net for the backbreaker.
Just to rub it in a little more, Vegas fourth-liner Patrick Brown (2) scored at 13:13 (Mockingbird Lane) of the third period. Ryan Reaves, who served a two-game suspension for an attempt to injury Ryan Graves, assisted. 5-1.
The goal was only more proof that the Colorado Avalanche did not deserve a better fate other than a blowout. The Avs registered just three shots on goal in the first 17:44 of the third period.
Late in the third period, the stat line was one goal, 18 shots, and nine turnovers.
Over the last three games, the Avs have been outshot 118-63.