Up 3-2, Avalanche still have hard road to travel

Colorado's Paul Stastny celebrates Nathan MacKinnon's overtime winner on Saturday. (USA TODAY...

Colorado's Paul Stastny celebrates Nathan MacKinnon's overtime winner on Saturday. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:16 PM ET

If we go by the past two games here, asking the Colorado Avalanche to win in Minnesota is like asking a whale to win on the beach.

The odds aren’t good.

Minnesota thoroughly dominated Games 3 and 4 at the Xcel Energy Center, outshooting Colorado 78-34 and barely letting them touch the puck in either loss.

But playoff hockey plays by its own rules and elements like goaltending, pressure, momentum and luck can render even the most reliable statistics totally obsolete.

So with the Minnesota Wild down 3-2 and facing elimination, still shaking their heads after a missed offside call cost them Game 5 and facing a lights-out goalie behind a team that smells blood, coach Mike Yeo knows better than to start packing for Game 7.

“That’s a good team,” said the Wild coach, who saw a side of the Avalanche on Saturday night that worries him. “I mean they brought it last game. They raised their level, there’s not question. But I think as their level went up, ours went down a little bit. So we’ve got to make sure that we crank it back up.”

Home ice has been a crucial element in this series — the visitors are 0-5 so far and the Wild were especially dominant at home — but with three of five games going to overtime and the other two going down to the final seconds (2-1 and 4-2 with an empty netter) neither side has ever been more than one bad break away from defeat.

Like, say, a missed offside call that costs you the tying goal with 1:14 left in regulation. It still has to sting knowing it should be Colorado’s neck on the block in Game 6, not Minnesota’s.

“That’s the challenge in the playoffs, to put it behind you and to move on,” Yeo said. “It’s not easy, there’s no question. But we have been a pretty good team this year when tested, when we’ve needed a response.

“This is where guys should welcome that opportunity. This is playoff hockey and this is what makes it great. It’s not just great because things go easy and things go well. It’s great because you have to fight through the hard times and the difficulties and that’s what makes it so rewarding.

“This is how winners are made in these moments. When you’re tested, how do you respond?”

And how will the Avs respond, after their dramatic comeback win in Game 5?

Roy knows his guys got manhandled in Games 3 and 4, but says his team looks ready to break through the road team jinx.

“We had two good looks there,” he said. “I’m not guaranteeing any results, but I mean I think we know how it’s going to be over there. We know how their fans are going to react. We know how they’re going to play. We’re not going to be surprised.”

He also believes Colorado has the better goalie in Vezina candidate Semyon Varlamov and knows from personal experience how crucial that can be in an elimination game.

“One thing that’s important to me is that we scored four goals on (Darcy Kuemper) in Game 5,” he said. “He came in midway through second period of Game 2, played really well. Then we couldn’t score in Game 3. Then it starts to get into our head. Now, scoring four goals yesterday, we start to have better looks at him and I think we started to know that we can beat this guy which is very positive going there. It’s a big difference in my opinion.”

If the first five games were any indication, one goal might make all the difference in the world.

“We don’t need a bunch of guys to come out and be heroes tomorrow,” Yeo said. “We need a bunch of guys to come out and be really strong in our game and when we do that somebody will have a chance to be a hero.”

DUCHENE ITHCING TO PLAY

The Matt Duchene Watch entered its 12th day Monday, with the Colorado Avalanche’s leading scorer during the regular season apparently ready for his playoff debut.

“He wants to play,” Colorado head coach Patrick Roy said. “If it was up to him, he’d be in the lineup. But it’s not how it works. It’s not my decision and it’s not his decision. It’s our team doctor’s.”

Duchene, who has been out four weeks with a knee injury, will be given a limited role if he does play in Game 6 on Monday.

“We’ve said all along, we’re going to be smart with him,” Roy said. “You can’t jump in and play the same way you were before you got hurt. It’s just slowly start with let’s say fourth line and power play, then you see how he feels.”

Wild coach Mike Yeo is bracing his side for the possible return of an impact player, but he doesn’t want his players thinking about it too much.

“We’ll be aware of it, we’ll have a plan for it, but in a game like this, our focus has to be fully on ourselves,” he said. “We can’t do that if we’re thinking about them.” 


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