DENVER – There’s a fire at Nathan McKinnon’s game. He drives with furious strides, the ones that make him one of the most dynamic skaters in the world. He leads the slapping shots he fires. That is why he can play more than 27 minutes in a decisive playoff game.
This fire is usually contained – a fan under the roof. But he allowed it to lose in Game 5 against Seattle in an outburst that represented what his team looks like: frustrated and looking for answers.
Halfway through the second period, as McKinnon spun along the boards to cut towards the net, Will Borgne appeared to clip him with his skate. The call brought the star center onto the ice, and he stood looking for a fumble call, expecting the Avalanche to go to the power play on a then-tying game.
“I’ve got five feet on a guy, and he’s taking my foot off,” McKinnon said after Colorado lost 3-2. “I don’t know what to do. It’s not 1975. I feel like this is a journey.”
When he didn’t get the call, he turned towards the panels and banged the stick on the glass. Meanwhile, Seattle brought in the ice puck. McKinnon’s heavy hitting delayed his return to the bench, and JT Compere – who had changed for him – was unable to play fast enough to cover Tai Carty. Jordan Eberle found fellow rookie with a pass, and Karate passed Alexander Georgiev once, breaking the tie.
Colorado played from behind the rest of the night.
“I have to keep my cool there better,” said McKinnon, who played 27:01. “I can’t be upset. It’s on me over there.”
The sequence was the latest setback in a series where everything seemed to go wrong because of the Avalanche. Part of this is bad luck – Valeriy Nishushkin (for personal reasons) is away from the team, Gabriel Landskog (knee injury) is absent for the season – but some of it is no one’s fault but Colorado’s. Cal Makar missed Game 5 by suspension, as a result of a late hit on Jared McCann. The scoring depth is as dry as the desert: every Avalanche goal in this series was scored or assisted by one of Colorado’s best forwards, McKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, or two of its best defenders, Devon Toyos and Makar. The sixth-ranked forward has not scored in all of the Avalanche’s series.
“We’ve got some players who haven’t accomplished much,” said coach Jared Bednar.
Although the Avalanche stressed the need for a better start to the night, Seattle looked faster and more assertive than the opening puck drop. Nobody scored in the first half, but the Kraken created more chances and hit two posts.
“We don’t have enough things on the attacking side to put them under any pressure to score goals to win the game,” Bednar said. “And then I feel like I’m kind of degraded after that.”
Morgan Geekie put Seattle on the board early in the second half, rebounding off Jaden Schwartz. In their eighth straight playoff game, the Avalanche found themselves playing from behind. The Avalanche responded, though, and Rantanen and McKinnon combined for a goal after Seattle goaltender Philip Grubauer misjudged a play on the boards. But then came the no-contact goal and subsequent Carty goal – a backbreaker.
While the officials did Colorado no favors in Game 5—Seattle could have been called for one or two more runs on McKinnon—the Avalanche didn’t do enough to win. Seattle checked the most difficult and clogged shooting lanes and had nearly 60 percent of expected target share by the end of the night, according to The natural stats trick. Colorado couldn’t get any. As Toyos told reporters after the loss, they look broken.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “We know everyone is trying to pull the rope, but sometimes you need more from everyone.”
In the eyes of the defenseman, there are many instances where one player is working and the other four are watching. Bednar added that the Kraken team is doing exactly what Colorado expected, yet the Avalanche looks underwhelming. “As if we weren’t expecting it,” said the coach.
McKinnon added, “We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot now.”
Early in the third period, Jani Gord beat Alex Newhawk to get a pinch hit along the boards in Colorado State’s defensive zone. This allowed the Kraken to move the disk around, waiting for an opportunity. They got it when Carson Susie hit a shot over the net. Gord puck leans on Georgiev, sucking the wind out of the ring.
Colorado briefly reignited the hope with a late empty rush. With less than four minutes remaining, Ivan Rodriguez’s shot rebounded off Jamie Oleksiak and went past Grubauer. But Colorado dug a hole too big, and the surge came too late.
With non-star forwards struggling to produce, Bednar had to rely heavily on McKinnon, Rantanen (23:35 of ice time) and Comfer (24:35). McKinnon was effective despite his heavy minutes, but the team as a whole looked tired by the end of the night. And at this point, Bednar said, “confidence is low.”
“We have to find a way to get her back,” said the coach.
The team heads to Seattle for Game 6. And although Josh Manson left Wednesday’s game due to injury, Makar will add an extra boost to his squad on Friday. But a superstar defender can’t be a lifesaver on her own.
“At the end of the day, I just want to see our guys play their best in one game and see what happens,” Bednar said. “We have a chance to go out there and win one game, and if we fall apart, that won’t happen.”
(Photo by Yanni Gord of Seattle fighting for control of the puck against Devon Towes of Colorado and Samuel Gerrard: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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