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Deciphering Dallas: How the Colorado Avalanche can get out of Round 2

Meghan Angley Avatar
May 11, 2024

The Colorado Avalanche fell 5-3 in Game 2 to the Dallas Stars and the series returned to Denver tied 1-1 with a chance for the Avs to fight for a couple wins on home ice.

Colorado brought a four-goal deficit within one with a little under four minutes to search for the tying goal late in the third period. They even had a powerplay chance with three minutes left to battle for it.

But the story of that game became bad penalties and a lack of execution which ultimately cost the Avs the second period and the mistakes were too big to overcome. Alexandar Georgiev did everything he could to keep the Avs in it while they figured things out.

The first two games haven’t been their best showings and that’s including a thrilling OT comeback win in Game 1.

It’s impressive that they can launch multi-goal comebacks, but trailing in games is not ideal.

What does Colorado need to do to beat Dallas?

Two-Pronged Solution

Colorado’s top stars received criticism following Game 2. At five-on-five, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Casey Mittelstadt didn’t register a shot.

Rantanen and MacKinnon finished the season with the highest average time on ice of any forwards in the league. They’re relied on by their team and Jared Bednar leans on them heavily.

Colorado’s top-six plays big minutes and that kind of stat line isn’t acceptable.

Cale Makar, Val Nichushkin, Rantanen, and MacKinnon combined for nine points in Game 1.

In Game 2, they were kept off the scoresheet.

“I thought they were frustrated,” Bednar said postgame. “They were the guys who got frustrated the quickest, the longest. They’re gonna get keyed on this time of year. They have the ability to win games for us if they stick with it and are resilient and play the right way like they have all year.”

Artturi Lehkonen started the third period on the top line in Nichushkin’s place. Zach Parise took a couple shifts there as well. Nichushkin eventually joined Parise on the second line with Casey Mittelstadt.

“I was looking for anyone that might be able to give them a spark and help them kind of get their game going, but they’re also partly responsible for that,” Bednar explained.

“They have to take it upon themselves to make sure their game is right and in order probably longer than anybody else because they play the most minutes.”

Jared Bednar on the top players

Bednar didn’t shy away from acknowledging that his top guys could do more, but he also delivered an important reminder at morning skate.

“There’s some things that we did, some things that we’ll have to be better at as the series goes on, and those guys are certainly part of that, but, it’s a team game,” he said. 

“They had some guys that probably weren’t as good as they wanted to be in Game 1 and that were better in Game 2… The Dallas stars have something to say about it too, right? They’re playing and they’re a really good hockey team, so it’s not going to all just be Avalanche dominating a game or Stars dominating a game because you got two pretty good teams going at it,” he added.

“There’s been some momentum changes and some shifts in who’s carrying the play throughout these two games already and who’s scoring at key times. Those guys will get going. I know they’ll be better tonight than they were the other night, and that should help steer us in the right direction.

Colorado’s first period in Game 2 wasn’t bad. The Avs looked like robots programmed to play hockey. They were in-sync, well-timed, and methodical.

The key to the series is twofold.  When they play together as a five-man unit, they play their best hockey. Any deviation or disruption from that causes problems.

After Devon Toews left the game following a big hit from Jamie Benn, they looked like humans with free will and imperfections including a series of self-inflicted wounds.

The second piece rests within Colorado’s top guys. They have to drive the pace.

“Playoffs are really important. You have to stay even-keeled and you can’t get too frustrated,” said Rantanen.

“You can’t get too high if you’re doing well and you can’t get too low if you’re struggling – as a line or team… We got to after every period reset, but obviously our goal tonight is to have a good, full 60. I think we haven’t done it.. so we try to find the consistency to keep the puck out of our net more than we have.

We’re mentally pretty well prepared for those situations and even if we go down a couple, we still keep playing and keep fighting. There’s no quit in this team and I don’t think any team has any quit at this time of the year. Mentally we have to be stronger than that to play a full 60 against a good team.

They won the conference. They are one of the best teams in the league, so if you fall asleep for 10 minutes, it might be three goals again.”

Dallas’ defensive details were better in Game 2 and they intentionally zeroed in on Colorado’s star players. They slowed Colorado in the neutral zone and forced the Avs to play more East-West. The Avs have to strap on their work boots to get through Dallas: dump-ins, wall retrievals, puck battles, playing behind the goal line, and mucking it up in the corners – everyone will have to do it to gain zone time. Nobody can be above it.

Bad Penalties

Their first penalty kill in Game 2 was awesome. They held Dallas to one shot on net and Nichushkin even created a missed chance the other way. The Avs tied them up so much that they weren’t able to try for another attempt: missed, blocked, or otherwise.

Things went downhill for the Avs in the second period following several non-forced penalties.

“To me it was not being mentally sharp and most of that was in the second period,” said Bednar.

Ultimately the Avs took two too many men bench minors and two delay of game penalties for tipping the puck out of play needlessly.

They have to do a better job of staying out of the box. Dallas capitalized on two opportunities and has converted on three of nine powerplays so far in the series.

Colorado’s first period in Game 1 was also heavily penalized and Jamie Benn walked out of the period with a powerplay goal. Both teams have a strong powerplay and it’s important for Colorado to limit Dallas’ man-advantage opportunties.

Georgiev’s Game

Alexandar Georgiev finished the first period of Game 2 strong and made key saves on several penalty kills despite two powerplay goals against in the contest. He stopped 15 of 17 high danger chances.

After Dallas’ powerplay following Josh Manson’s delay of game, the Stars continued to lay it on the Avs. Roope Hintz had a couple chances on the man-advantage and Matt Duchene followed it up with a wrister in close and Tyler Seguin went for the backhand attempt. Georgiev continued to be sharp and helped the Avs to weather that storm.

Unfortunately this was followed by a Sean Walker penalty where Georgiev was screened by Jamie Benn. Miro Heiskanen took the shot from distance and beat a blinded Georgiev.

You could see Georgiev’s body language shift after this goal. He looked simultaneously deflated and stunned. He’d be righteous to feel that way. He was standing on his head and the Avs made poor decisions in front of him.

Unlike past instances, Georgiev didn’t look shaken up by anger, but he did look disappointed.

He battled for his team, but it wasn’t enough. It’s important for Georgiev to keep his spirits high after a disappointing loss.

“We try to pump his tires in the room and he’s been playing really well for us,” Rantanen explained. “We try to help him a little bit more… try to keep their big guys in front of people away from our net and make him see the puck.”

Rantanen’s point about screens is important. The Avs can issue a punishing response to Jamie Benn’s hit by delivering a smothering kind of physicality to the entirety of the Stars. There should be a steep price to pay if they want to spend any time in Colorado’s end.

If guys want to park outside the blue paint, move them and make them pay.

Depth Delivers

For as much as we talk about star players, depth is still just as much a part of the story in this series. Mason Marchment returned to Dallas’ lineup and had an immediate impact, and Dallas’ middle-six can pack a mean scoring punch.

Brandon Duhaime and Joel Kiviranta scored in Game 2 and Colorado’s bottom-nine produced all over the place in the Winnipeg series.

Miles Wood notched the overtime winning goal with the assist from Andrew Cogliano in Game 1. The early returns point to better depth than the Avs have been given credit for nationally, but it’s too early to celebrate.

Wood talked about coming alive in these playoffs, “ I’m just a little more juiced up for the games. It’s a special time of year.”

His line with Ross Colton found success with Kiviranta in the Winnipeg series, and they’re looking to bring that again now that Kiviranta has returned.

Casey Mittelstadt isn’t depth, but he has more to give the Dallas series than we’ve seen through two games. He was a difference maker against Winnipeg, so we’re due a big Casey Mittelstadt game as well.

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