ST. LOUIS — The Avalanche will have its second opportunity to close out the St. Louis Blues and advance to the Western Conference finals in Friday’s Game 6 of the second-round series at The Enterprise Center.
Three keys for Colorado:
More MacKinnon. Center Nathan MacKinnon had an extraordinary Game 5 on Wednesday, scoring three goals — his first three of the series — as he factored in on each of Colorado’s four tallies in the 5-4 overtime collapse. His heroics should have been enough for the Avs to win, but they didn’t get any goals from the bottom-six forwards or any defensemen. MacKinnon is the engine that drives this train, and if he has a performance anything similar to Game 5 on Friday, his teammates are bound to appropriately chip in. MacKinnon is probably now in the Blues’ heads, and that attention could lead to more open ice for teammates. Winger Mikko Rantanen, for one, needs to follow MacKinnon and have a breakout game.
Mental toughness. The Avs need to forget how the second half of Game 5 went and focus on doing more of what they did in the first 30 minutes. They were off to a sensational start Wednesday, producing 18 first-period shots and going 3-for-3 on the penalty kill midway through the second frame. Building a 3-0 lead and killing off all three penalties should have led them to victory. But the third-period collapse needs to be erased from their memories. The Blues believe they can build from their epic, season-saving rally. Colorado needs to display the mental toughness required to get back to its north-south game from the first drop of the puck. Failed zone exits ultimately doomed the Avs in Game 5, allowing the Blues to get second and third chances on the same attack. Colorado needs to re-establish its speed game that begins with clean exits.
Kuemperor. Goalie Darcy Kuemper needs to live up to his nickname. His .833 save percentage in Game 5 wasn’t good enough, and it wasn’t much better in Game 3 (.850). The Blues are a fantastic offensive team but Kuemper needs to stop more pucks and hold more leads. Colorado took a 4-1 lead in Game 4 but Kuemper couldn’t close the door. He allowed two power-play goals late in the second period, and if it weren’t for the heroics of Nazem Kadri and an opportunistic third period, the Avs could have lost that game, too. Kuemper’s 3-0 blown lead on Wednesday wasn’t all his fault. The defensive zone exits by his teammates were poor. But the Blues’ overtime goal by former DU standout Tyler Bozak is a shot Kuemper needs to stop. If the Avs win Game 6 to eliminate the Blues, Kuemper must play a big role and certainly outplay Ville Husso at the other end.
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