After each Colorado Avalanche playoff game, I’ll put out some rapid reaction on what I’m feeling right after the game, before gathering more thoughts for Plus/Minus in the morning.
When the Avalanche lost Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky over the summer, they used those extra funds to bring back Josh Manson. Now, it’s been a nightmare season for Manson, as he’s barely played since December, but it was clear the Avalanche knew how this newly constructed team was going to win.
But defense isn’t just the six guys on the blueline. It requires the entire team. On Friday night, the Avalanche put in far and away their best defensive performance of the playoffs, and it’s a big reason why there will be a Game Seven. In fact, the performance over the final two periods of Game Six were reminiscent of the third period of the Cup-clinching game in Tampa. Stout, mistake-free hockey where they never stop attacking.
And it was a total team effort.
It starts on the forecheck. For the first time all series, the “energy” line with Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor made life difficult for Kraken defenders. The oddly constructed Rodrigues, Eller, and Compher line did the same as well, especially in the third period.
That heavy forecheck, combined with good tracking on the backcheck, allowed the Avalanche defenders to close the gap in the neutral zone. There were countless times where the Avalanche blueline was able to read the breakout of the Kraken simply because the forwards were only giving them one option on the breakout. That enabled all the defensemen, from Makar to the Johnson’s, to cut off the Kraken attack before it even got started. And when the Kraken did get into the offensive zone, Colorado was there to stop their attempts at a cycle. That hasn’t been the case most of the series.
Overall, it resulted in Seattle generating next to nothing at even strength for the final 40 minutes of the game. In the second and third periods, the Kraken were credited with only four shots on goal at even strength, and two high-danger chances. It’s hard to do better than that from an Avalanche perspective.
Did getting Cale Makar back help? Absolutely. Devon Toews might have been the best player on the ice. Sam Girard continued his strong play. And the two best forwards in the series, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, were exactly that in Game Six.
But it was a team effort. Everyone bought in. And because of that, the Avalanche live to fight another day.