The second-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues moved back to Denver for Game 5 Wednesday night. The two teams have locked horns in a bitterly contested series, with Colorado holding a 3-1 lead heading into the game.
In a series with more drama than a Shakespeare play, Game 5 did not disappoint. After Colorado took a 3-0 lead, the Blues scored three unanswered goals to tie the game. Nathan MacKinnon then gave the Avalanche a 4-3 lead with 2:46 left to play in the third period on a thrilling goal-line-to-goal-line score. Not to be outdone, Robert Thomas tied the game with just under a minute to play, forcing overtime.
At the 3:38 mark of the first overtime period, Blues forward Tyler Bozak scored the game-winner on a hard shot from high in the zone, securing the 5-4 victory for his team, and sending the series back to St. Louis on Friday night. Here are three takeaways from the game.
The Avalanche scored the first three goals of the game, outshooting the Blues 18-9 in the first period. To a casual observer, the game was likely over. Colorado was dominating every facet of the game, winning loose puck battles and controlling possession.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s goal more than halfway through the second period roused the Blues, with his team taking control of the game from that point on. The Blues outshot the Avalanche 9-6 in the second period, and 10-5 in the third period. A goal from Thomas halfway through the third and another by Justin Faulk with under five minutes to play tied the game, and it looked like the contest was heading to overtime.
A brilliant go-ahead goal from MacKinnon with under three minutes to play should have been a dagger in the heart of the Blues, but St. Louis would not go away. With the Blues’ net empty, Faulk, who led all players with 29:02 time on ice (TOI), made a nifty play to keep a bouncing puck in the offensive zone, allowing Thomas to score the equalizer with 56 seconds left to play.
Colorado came out flying in the overtime period, outshooting the Blues 5-1. But it was Bozak’s hard shot from high on the right side that beat a partially screened Darcy Kuemper on the glove side, completing the unlikely comeback and securing the win for his team.
MacKinnon Wakes Up
After an explosive series against the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs, Colorado’s superstar center MacKinnon went quiet in the first four games of the series against St. Louis. In the first-round sweep of the Nashville Predators, he had five goals and one assist, along with a total of 29 shots-on-goal (SOG). In the first four games against the Blues, he had zero goals, three assists, and took a total of only 17 SOG.
To be fair, MacKinnon did have three points in four games in the series prior to Wednesday night, but expectations for a player of his caliber are high. Often mentioned in the company Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Auston Matthews, he needs to be the engine that drives the Avalanche if they hope to make their Stanley Cup aspirations a reality.
From the moment Colorado took the ice in Game 5, MacKinnon looked like a man possessed. He was sharp on his edges, playing with exceptional speed, and was quarterbacking almost every play in which he was involved. He also played an end-to-end game, with one of his strongest backchecking performances this postseason.
While his team ultimately lost, MacKinnon’s effort did pay dividends. He had 3 goals, 1 assist, and a total of six SOG in the game. His TOI was 22:29, second only to captain Gabriel Landeskog (23:13) among the team’s forwards. No goal was more impactful or electric to watch than his third goal, completing the hat trick, and momentarily giving his team a lead late in the third period.
Robert Thomas Wakes Up
Thomas had a tremendous regular season. The 22-year-old forward tallied 77 points (20 goals, 57 assists) in 72 games, by far the best performance of his young career.
But Thomas had a painfully quiet postseason before Wednesday night. He had just three points in 10 games, all against the Minnesota Wild in the first round. His two goals in Game 5, including the game-tying goal late, might be what the Aurora, Ontario native needs to get going.
Up Next for the Avalanche
All the pressure is on Colorado as the series shifts back to St. Louis Friday night for Game 6. Colorado, heavily favored to win the Stanley Cup from the start of the season, is fighting history, trying to advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002.
The Avalanche have exited the playoffs in the second round each of the last three years. One thing is certain, the level of play and intensity in this series will make Game 6 must-watch TV for any and all fans of the sport.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.