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Avalanche need to ‘get back on track’ as series turns to best-of-three

It’s been, to our eye, eight periods now that the Vegas Golden Knights have dominated the Colorado Avalanche.

As the old story goes, if Colorado could stem this tide they would. But apparently they can’t, at least not yet, as they were beaten soundly for the second straight game and Vegas evened this Round 2 series with a decisive 5-1 win Sunday night at home in Nevada.

Asked about the ineffectiveness of Colorado’s top line, Avalanche winger J.T. Compher responded: “We need more from everyone.”

Since puck drop in the second period of Game 2, Vegas has been the better team. Colorado squeezed out an overtime win that night, but Vegas outshot Colorado 31-12 in Periods 2 and 3 of Game 2. In winning Games 3 and 4 to even the series, Vegas owned the shot clock to the tune of 78-38.

That’s right folks: 78-38.

“We’re a unit of five all over the ice,” said Max Pacioretty, who sniped again in Game 4 for his second in two games. “We’re not cheating for offence. And as you can see, it’s frustrating for teams to play against.”

“Once they get one chance, they swarm with two or three other chances,” said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. “You have to quickly … try to prevent that.

“They forced us into some mistakes. We need to find a way to force them into a few more.”

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Bednar challenged his top players after Game 3, asking the media to, “Go ahead and check the numbers of our top guys tonight and see what they did compared to their top players. It’s not close.”

In Game 4 the chasm was even wider, with Jonathan Marchessault notching a hat trick for Vegas while Colorado’s top line went pointless with five shots on goal and a collective minus-6.

Landeskog didn’t have a shot on goal in Vegas — in either game.

“They’re frustrated for sure,” Bednar admitted of his top line. “It’s tough checking, especially for those guys. They’re not just dealing with one line. They’re dealing with multiple lines that are playing real well.”

Meanwhile, Nazem Kadri watches as Rome burns. The oft-suspended centreman has two more games to serve on his eight-game suspension – barring appeal — and could be back for a Game 7, if the Avs can get there.

As Kevin Bieksa joked on the Sportsnet broadcast, it’s a good thing we just didn’t award the series to Colorado after their series-opening 7-1 win. Turns out, these Golden Knights have the chops to play with a Colorado team that once looked every bit their superior.

Suddenly, the magnificent Norris Trophy candidate Cale Makar doesn’t look quite as magnificent.

Suddenly, the dominance of Nathan MacKinnon isn’t as present, with no points in the past two losses. That top line of the Avalanche aren’t doing whatever they please anymore; Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have been in on one goal in two games, after that line had a hand in five snipes in the series opener.

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The tide, she’s turning. Or turned — it depends how you want to look at it.

Is Vegas in Colorado’s heads?

“I don’t think so,” Brandon Saad said. “They’ve got a good team, and that’s the way a series goes. That’s why they call it a series. We didn’t think we’d come in here and win both games. We’re going back to a building where we play well. It’s a best-of-three now, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Certainly Bednar has gone from publicly challenging his top guys to publicly supporting them. Kicking didn’t work, so in his post-game remarks on Sunday he tried stroking his players instead.

“I didn’t have a problem with our intent, the purpose to our game and how we competed,” a much calmer Bednar said. “For the most part it was pretty good. Our work ethic was fine, the compete on the puck was much better. We still lost our fair share of the battles, that’s for sure.

“At least we entered the fight tonight and got in it. I didn’t like the result,” he added. “I’m confident that they had more scoring chances and good looks. But it wasn’t due to a lack of effort.”

Trying hard won’t be enough. Not for an Avalanche team facing a third consecutive Round 2 playoff ouster.

With this much talent, relatively good health, and now a Vezina candidate in goalie Philipp Grubauer, Colorado can not ask for a better opportunity to move closer to a Stanley Cup than they’ve been in years.

It’s best two out of three now.

Said Saad: “We have to get back on track.”

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