Through the first two and a half periods of Game 7 between Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks, it appeared as though the Colorado Avalanche, who disposed of the Calgary Flames in five games, were set to make a trip to Sin City for the start of the second round. Given their 2-1-0 record against Vegas during the regular season, that’s likely a matchup the Avalanche wouldn’t have minded. But then came the game-changing major penalty to the Golden Knights’ Cody Eakin – debate that amongst yourselves – that led to four Sharks goals in four minutes. A late tying goal by Vegas set the stage for overtime, and in the extra frame, Barclay Goodrow delivered the series-winning goal for San Jose.
It’s not the most favorable draw for Colorado, and if the odds were already going to be stacked against the Avalanche in Round 2, they’ve been stacked further given their performance in the regular season meetings against the Sharks. Will San Jose’s regular season record carry over to the playoffs or will Colorado bust some of the NHL’s second-chance brackets with another underdog victory?
SAN JOSE SHARKS
The Major Miracle, the San Jose Stunner, Pulling It Off For Pavelski. Whatever you want to call it, the Sharks snatched victory from the powerful jaws of defeat in Game 7 of the opening round, orchestrating one of the most jaw-dropping comebacks in post-season history against the Golden Knights. Controversial call aside, too, we saw exactly what makes San Jose such a dangerous team: if you give them the opportunity, they’re going to score in bunches. And it’s not as though an opponent can shut down one line and succeed. The Sharks come at you in waves.
In the first round, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl each had six goals and eight points, which is an absurd level of output in one playoff series. The Sharks also got a pair of markers from each of Goodrow, Kevin Labanc and Joe Pavelski, though the captain’s status for the series and the post-season is up in the air after the horrifying injury he suffered in Game 7 earlier this week.
If Pavelski is indeed out, San Jose will need more from its secondary scorers. Good thing they have a number of those. Timo Meier looked great at times in the opening round, but managed one goal and four points after a breakout regular season performance. He can do more offensively. The same goes for Evander Kane, who can be an impact player with his physicality and scoring touch. Even if the Avalanche manage to quiet the Sharks’ top six, though, the blueline can pick up the slack. Erik Karlsson registered nine assists in seven games despite some chatter that he’s still not 100 percent. Brent Burns is Brent Burns. He’s going to make an offensive impact.
We saw what Colorado can do to a powerhouse defensive team in the first round, however, and San Jose is most certainly not that. They allowed more goals against – and the second-most per game – in the first round, which falls in line with their 21st-place finish in goals against per game during the regular season. The Sharks will need to be better in their own zone, which they were late in the opening round.
X-Factor: Martin Jones was one goaltender the first half of the first-round series against Vegas and another in the second half. Through the first four games, he had an ugly .838 save percentage and was yanked twice. In the final three outings, he posted a .946 SP and allowed seven goals against on 129 shots. The Sharks will need second-half Jones to show up early and shut down an Avalanche offense that was hot in Round 1.
Who are these Avalanche? What we expected in the first round was a one-line team that would go as far as Nathan MacKinnon would take them. Instead, Colorado plowed through Calgary, choking off the Flames’ offense with suffocating neutral zone play and a possession game unlike anything we’ve seen from the Avalanche in recent years.
Really, not enough can be said about the way the Avalanche played as a whole. If there’s anything that gives one pause when looking at the head-to-head matchup, it should be that against the Flames, who were a dominant possession team in the regular season, Colorado flipped the script and had nearly 55 percent of the shot attempts against Calgary. That resulted in the secondary scoring – players such as Matt Nieto, Colin Wilson and J.T. Compher – stepping up when needed. It was a truly impressive performance and one that has changed the perception of Colorado entering the second round.
That said, this is still MacKinnon’s team and there remains a certain aspect of as-goes-MacKinnon-so-go-the-Avalanche. Fortunately, MacKinnon is playing like he wants to erase all doubt that he’s one of the five-best players in the world. He was an absolute stud against the Flames, registering three goals and eight points while logging nearly 24 minutes per game. And offering support to MacKinnon’s excellence was Mikko Rantanen, who looks hungry to add an additional zero to his paycheque after a five-goal, nine-point performance in Colorado’s five-game series victory over Calgary.
Concern remains on the blueline, though. There are more than enough hands,, but it’s the quality of those players that comes into question. A top four of Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Sam Girard and Nikita Zadorov hardly strikes fear into opponents. For as good as Cale Makar has been early on, too, asking him to skate top-four minutes against a powerhouse Sharks team four games into his career is a lot. How the Colorado defense handles San Jose’s attack will be key.
X-Factor: Not to shine the spotlight solely on the two creases, but beating the Sharks can come down to simple goaltending. Chances are if the Golden Knights get more than a .909 SP out of Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas is moving on to the second round. Philipp Grubauer has been good – really good, in fact – for the Avalanche in recent weeks and that will need to continue. Fortunately, he’s shown no signs of slowing. After posting a .956 SP across his final 14 appearances of the season, he helped Colorado make quick work of Calgary with a .939 SP across five games.
Jan. 2, 2019 – SJ 5, COL 4
March 1, 2019 – SJ 4, COL 3
April 6, 2019 – SJ 5, COL 2
Fan Favorite: Even
THN Series Pick: San Jose Sharks in six
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