After Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche have a 2-1 series lead over the Calgary Flames.
Ahead of this game, it was announced that NCAA stand-out and Hobey Baker Award winning defenseman Cale Makar would be joining the Avalanche and making his NHL debut in game 3. Similar to that of the Boston Bruins Charlie McAvoy making his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators in game 1 of the 2017 NHL playoffs.
For this game, the Avalanche needed to continue their late game success against Calgary, because they hemmed the Flames in their own end and kept on pressuring the old Mike Smith. That’s exactly what happened. They completely controlled the pace of the game, outshooting the Flames 21-8 in the first.
MacKinnon’s Two Goals
The Avalanche with an early 5 on 3 power play struck first, with Nathan MacKinnon scoring his second goal of the playoffs. With strong puck movement bringing the puck up to the point for Tyson Barrie, the Flames penalty killers were far too lenient, only coming out to the top of the circles, allowing MacKinnon to take the cross ice pass from Barrie, walk in with no pressure, and absolutely ripped a shot right past Smith for the 1-0 lead.
About 5 minutes later, the Avalanche had another power play, and yet again it was MacKinnon who got his second tally of the game, and third of the playoffs. It started with Gabriel Landeskog lugging the puck out of the right corner and up the boards behind Mikko Rantanen. As he turned around the top of the circle, he twisted a pass back to Rantanen, who one-touched a pass across the ice to MacKinnon, who one-timed that pass right past Mike Smith.
Cale Makar’s First Goal
Two and a half minutes later, the rookie gets his first NHL goal. After a great drop pass from MacKinnon, Makar forced his way through traffic, and quickly wristed a shot through Smith to make it 3-0 Avalanche. This goal is one that Mike Smith would want back. This was a goal that he could’ve stopped, as it wasn’t a challenging shot. Not just that, Makar didn’t get everything he wanted on that shot. He had defensemen on either side of him, reaching, swiping, pushing, trying anything to disrupt him. But yet, the tiny chip shot slipped underneath Smith. Not a good start for the veteran goaltender of the Flames.
For the second, the Avalanche needed to keep controlling the pace of the game. It was a much better effort for the Flames. But the Avs retained the pace of the game, outshooting the Flames 19-12, bringing the totals to 40-20 in favor of Colorado.
Just about 8 minutes into the second, the Flames went to the power play. After a shot in tight was blocked and came out of the crowd, Ian Cole scooped it up and went on a shorthanded breakaway. Smith made the initial save, but the rebound went right to Matt Nieto, who buried his second of the playoffs, making it 4-0 Colorado.
On that same Flames power play, the puck was sent to the point, collected by Rasmus Andersson. Andersson sent one on net in the perfect spot, and Sam Bennett easily deflected it past Philipp Grubauer, making it 4-1.
The Flames need to ride this momentum if they want any chance of getting back into this game. But a little over 4 minutes later, Rantanen scored his first career playoff goal, and it was a crucial one. With the Flames riding the momentum of their last goal, Rantanen put them away. A good battle in the defensive end, led to a Colin Wilson takeaway and transition. Wilson, knowing it’s a 3 on 2 rush, dropped it back to Rantanen who one-timed it past Smith to make it 5-1 Colorado.
All the action happened early in the game, as 54 seconds in Erik Johnson scored for the Avalanche. During 4 on 4 play, the Flames coughed up the puck leading to an odd man rush for the Avalanche. The initial shot rang off the crossbar and back to Ian Cole. Cole floated one towards the net, which Johnson deflected past Smith for the 6-1 lead. About 10 seconds later, the Flames responded, with TJ Brodie scoring the goal. After a nice save from Grubauer, the puck took an unfortunate bounce to Brodie at the point who somehow managed to put it through all the traffic and past Gruby, 6-2 Avalanche. That would do it, and the Avs took a 2-1 series lead.
Avalanche Team Hero
MacKinnon, hands down. He generated the offense, being best player on the ice, and started the slaughter. I don’t think the Avs win this game if MacKinnon doesn’t drive the offense right after puck drop in game 3.
Flames Team Hero
Travis Hamonic, registering 5 blocks and 2 shots, Hamonic was arguably the Flames best all-around defenseman. He did finish as a -1, but he has been great at getting in the shooting lanes, and, for the most part, keeping the Avalanche on the perimeter.
Avalanche Team Villain
Nikita Zadorov played a physical brand of hockey, but ended up taking a total of 12 penalty minutes in this game. Again, if you take away Nathan MacKinnon’s performance, the 12 penalty minutes from Zadorov could have costed them the game. Obviously it didn’t, and physicality in hockey is needed, especially in the playoffs, but he took too many penalties.
Flames Team Villain
Matthew Tkachuk finished as a -3, with 0 points and only one shot, while taking a whopping 16 penalty minutes. His antics came back to bite the Flames, and he was shut down when he was on the ice.
My Three Stars
*Nathan MacKinnon, his two goals started everything and he drove the offense
**Cale Makar, his NHL debut ended with him getting the game winning goal
***Philipp Grubauer, made 27 saves on 29 shots, and each time the Flames tried to rally, he shut them down.
Potential For Next Game
Seems as though Mike Smith is coming back down to earth a little bit in this game. Although the goals were mainly off of one-timers, there were a couple he would want back, and that’s not good moving forward. Matthew Tkachuk needs to reel in the emotion as well, and be less of a liability. The Flames were known all season as one of the best offensive teams, and they can’t solve Philipp Grubauer, a guy who had been a backup all season until the late stretch of March. They need to solve him, and fast, as they can’t afford to go down 3-1 against a team with a hot goalie and an all-star forward in MacKinnon who is dominant in the offensive zone.
stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals