The Colorado Avalanche are such a deep and talented team, it’s sometimes easy to look past any individual member.
But in Game Five of their second-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, Avs center Nathan MacKinnon made the hockey world sit up and take notice of him, scoring three times to put the Blues on the brink of elimination with less than three minutes left in regulation time.
However, the resilient, Stanley Cup-championship-winning Blues core refused to quit, getting clutch scoring from their depth players – most notably, a pair of goals from winger Robert Thomas, including the game-tying marker with 56 seconds left in the third period – and veteran forward Tyler Bozak netted the overtime winner to make it 5-4 and keep their Cup hopes alive, sending the series back to St. Louis for Game Six Friday.
MacKinnon, who was sidelined late in the regular season and missed a total of 17 games this year, added an assist in the loss, and he has eight goals and 13 points in nine playoff games this spring. He’s one goal shy of equalling his career post-season high of nine goals, set in 15 games in the 2020 playoffs. He was dominant in a way only truly elite players like Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid has been – and in 59 career playoff games, MacKinnon has an astounding 36 goals and 82 points. He is the best Colorado has to offer, and for most of Game Five, it appeared that he was almost single-handedly going to will the Avs to the Western Conference Final.
But there is something to be said for Cup-winning experience, and the Blues reminded everyone of that while refusing to go home for the summer just yet. MacKinnon scored the only two goals of the first period Wednesday, and the Avalanche went up 3-0 four minutes into the second frame on Gabriel Landeskog’s sixth goal of these playoffs.
Many other teams would not have been able to recover from that kind of deficit. Yet St. Louis’ resolve was apparent soon thereafter: star winger Vladimir Tarasenko scored ten minutes after Landeskog’s goal, and the Blues chipped away midway through the third period on Thomas’ first goal of the night, followed by forward Jordan Kyrou’s sixth goal of the playoffs with less than five minutes left. Two minutes later, MacKinnon put Colorado ahead, but St. Louis kept pressing, and Thomas’ second of the game sent the match to OT.
The Blues don’t have a superstar of MacKinnon’s equivalent, but in Game Five, 10 different St. Louis players - including defenseman Nick Leddy, who had a pair of assists, including the primary assist on Bozak’s goal – registered at least one point. That’s the kind of all-around excellence that allows teams to outlast opponents with marquee talents. That’s the all-in commitment necessary to push an elite team like the Avalanche to their limit.
Now, it’s entirely possible – likely, even – that Colorado gets a huge effort from MacKinnon, Landeskog, Nazem Kadri or blueliner Cale Makar in Game Six and St. Louis is eliminated. The Avalanche are a powerhouse, and they’re built to win, and win now. That said, if the Blues emerge victorious in Game Six, suddenly, all the pressure will be on the Avs. After sweeping Nashville in Round One, blowing a 3-1 series lead in this round will leave an awful taste in the mouths of Avalanche fans. But that’s a real possibility now.
If you had to start a team by choosing one player from the Avs or Blues, there’s no question MacKinnon would be the right choice. At 26 years old, he’s in his prime, and clearly capable of coming up with astonishing performances. But no player can be everything all at once in the playoffs. You need your entire roster chipping in.
That’s what Blues players did Wednesday. And it could happen again in the next two games.