Sports

‘Boring’ Avalanche now just 1 win from Cup Final

The Colorado Avalanche moved one win away from the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-2 victory Saturday in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, doing what they do best: Winning on the road.

The Avalanche moved to a perfect 6-0 away from Denver in the playoffs, the only team in the NHL postseason that hasn’t lost a road game.

Star center Nathan MacKinnon said that instead of thrilling their home fans, the Avalanche thrive on sucking the fun out of games on the road.

“You don’t gotta please anybody. We’re here to hopefully make it boring and gross. Just play a good two-way game,” he said. “There’s no show to put on [when we’re] on the road, and it just feels like we’re playing the right way.”

That said, the Avalanche are averaging 5.00 goals per game and converting 35.3% of their power plays on the road, which lead the NHL playoffs. Defensively, their 2.50 goals-against average away from home is the best among the four remaining teams.

“I don’t know the secret. I find our details are probably better at home. I don’t know if we’re a little slower or what [on the road], but I just feel everyone’s kind of in a good spot,” MacKinnon said. “We have five guys connected, offensively and defensively.”

That was never more obvious than late in the third period, when the Avalanche were trying to hang on to a one-goal lead while the Oilers had goalie Mike Smith pulled for an extra attacker. The Avalanche blocked three shots, and then had winger Mikko Rantanen take the puck away from the Oilers before scoring an empty-netter to clinch the win.

“I thought it was outstanding, even before Mikko,” said coach Jared Bednar of his team’s defensive effort. “Just committed to trying to get the job done and some real good defensive hockey there.”

Connor McDavid made his impact just 38 seconds into the game, slipping a shot past goalie Pavel Francouz (27 saves) for the early lead.

The game took a turn seconds later, as Edmonton’s Evander Kane cross-checked Avalanche center Nazem Kadri from behind to earn a five-minute major penalty — but not a game misconduct, despite Kadri being injured on the play. Bednar said that Kadri will be out for the series “at least, if not longer.”

The Oilers killed off the penalty, and the Avalanche went 0-for-5 on the man advantage for the game.

Valeri Nichushkin then scored two straight goals for the Avalanche — one at 16:12 of the first period, another at 4:37 of the second period — to give Colorado a 2-1 lead.

Edmonton’s Ryan McLeod scored a long-range goal at 7:34 of the third period to tie the score, on a sequence that started with Avalanche forward Nico Sturm getting his stick slashed out of his hands in the neutral zone with no penalty called.

The Oilers were on a power play with just under 10 minutes left in the third period, as J.T. Compher was called for tripping on Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who appeared to fall to the ice unprompted. But the Avalanche killed off the penalty and forward Andrew Cogliano found Compher streaking out of the penalty box. Compher, who played in Kadri’s spot in the lineup after his injury, entered the Oilers zone and slipped a shot through Smith for the 3-2 lead.

It was Compher’s fifth goal in his past four games. “He’s been awesome. We’re going to need him going forward to be a difference-maker,” MacKinnon said.

The Oilers pulled Smith, but Rantanen iced the game for the win and the 3-0 series lead. MacKinnon said the Avalanche aren’t even thinking about the series advantage, despite being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“That’s all over with. We’re 0-0 heading into the next game,” he said.

Game 4 of the series is in Edmonton on Monday night.

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