The Avs know what’s at stake. They can finish off the Wild tonight and advance to the next playoff round against the Blackhawks. They know they have to finish a pesky team off now rather than giving them a chance to beat them in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
With the Blackhawks eliminating the Blues in the Western Conference quarterfinals yesterday afternoon, they are going to be rested and ready to go in the next round. It would behoove the Avalanche to play Game 7 and face their well-rested next opponent.
It’s easier said than done, though. The Wild could have won the series already, and they are a great home team with two home playoff wins to show for it in this series. They can be counted on putting on a quality performance in what is their elimination game.
This series has been about the home-ice advantage. The Wild won two games at their home ice while the Avalanche won three games at their home ice. Both teams play to their strength at home. The Avs run their offense well at the Pepsi Center while the Wild has been stingy on defense at the Xcel Energy Center.
It’s a challenge the Avalanche need to answer tonight as the road team. We are going to find out about how great they are tonight. They have to show they have the killer instinct to finish a team off, and they have to apply the lessons they learned in playing Games 3 and 4 of road playoff hockey. A team with championship aspirations has to finish off a vulnerable team.
To quote Avalanche coach Patrick Roy, it’s time for the Avs to put their balls on the table.
The offense showed they can score goals off Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper. They also can get past the neutral zone when they run their offense against the Wild defense. Now, they have to do it on the road.
It has been a tough go for the Avalanche at St. Paul. They scored 1 goal of 34 shots in Games 3 and 4. They threw 12 shots at Kuemper in Game 4. They were outplayed to the point it didn’t seem like they belonged on the same ice with the Wild.
They know they are better than they showed in those two road playoff games. This is why tonight should be an opportunity to show how far they have come.
A mark of a championship team is winning many games on the road. It means dealing with a hostile crowd and a different ice. It means finding a way to dictate their tempo on the road and quieting a loud crowd.
Xcel Energy Center is a tough place to play when the Wild are a great team, and the fans will rally their team on for a chance to them to play Game 7. Wild fans should be ready to go after they were led to believe they were screwed by refs on a P.A. Parenteau’s goal , which Paul Stastny was offsides. They have been crying about it on blogs, message boards and Twitter.
This is where the Avalanche must find a way to exert their will. This is where they need to figure it out and make it happen.
Nathan MacKinnon has been phenomenal in this playoff series with two goals and eight assists to show for it. He tied the game at 1 in Game 2, and he scored the game-winning playoff goal in Game 5. Tonight is an opportunity for him to continue to boost his stock by playing well if the Avs want to finish the Wild off tonight. This is where he has to take the lead. He is the only guy that has it in him to step up and lead the way.
Great players also do their work on the road. As great as MacKinnon has been, he was ineffective on the road in Games 3 and 4. Tonight gives him the stage where he can continue to create good postseason moments. To play well in an opposing team’s elimination game at home would boost his status.
There’s no question the Wild will play with desperation. It’s on the Avalanche to match that intensity. They have to approach it as if they are being eliminated.
If the Avs win tonight, they can have few days off to rest their bodies. Few days of rest in the postseason can be valuable. They need to be in good shape if they advance to play the defending Stanley Cup champions.
It won’t be easy. Nothing is easy this time of the year. It’s a challenge the Avalanche should relish in ending this great series on the road.
A win tonight would improve the development of being a championship team.
Contact or follow Leslie Monteiro at @LightRodWriter