Well, it had to fail at some point. Pulling the goalie can’t be a crutch every time, no matter how fun a narrative it may be to tell. But despite the loss, I was really pleased with how this game turned out.
Homecoming king Matt Duchene took some time to find his legs – his first period line was 0-6 in Corsi events despite highly advantageous zonestarts – but when he did, he looked fantastic. He and Ryan O’Reilly easily rekindled their chemistry and powered not only their line, but a resurgent powerplay that came out miles better than Minnesota’s. Hopefully nobody still pays attention to +/-, because O’Reilly had an incredible, resurgent game that I thought wasn’t far off from Zach Parise’s 4-point performance, but finished -1 for sticking out consecutive empty-netters.
The top line’s minuses, on the other hand, were far more deserved. Paul Stastny for one has gotta get his get his get his get his head in the game. His spear to Cody McCormick’s walnuts was the epitome of pointless, dirty, and downright inexplicable. Not only have they been teammates, but if for the sakes of gamesmanship, there are about 50 people whose games would be more valuable to throw off. He may as well have Lucic’d the flipping stick boy for all the good it did.
Both he and Gabriel Landeskog have had discipline problems since Game 5, getting overly-involved in post-whistle scrums and often initiating them with unnecessary contact, and their play has declined for it. Stastny’s shorthanded goal was an enormous coup that helped to flip the game’s momentum, but the circumstances could not have been poorer and he needs to watch his stick in Game 7. Shout out to Andre Benoit for his swan dive, too. It’s partly a homer thing, but I really do expect better of the Avs when it comes to clean play.
Aside from that though, I can’t complain about Monday’s game from the second period on. I had nearly forgotten what it felt like to have appreciable forward depth, but it was so, so wonderful. Despite a mid-game demotion to the third line, Jamie McGinn might have been the team’s best player, beating the Wild on several forechecks and driving possession with great efficiency – all while taking 7 of 9 starts in the defensive zone. He came oh-so-close to putting the Avs ahead too, but flipped a rolling puck over the empty cage.
The fourth line, featuring recent whipping boys in Cody McLeod and Marc-Andre Cliche, gave us a few of what could be called perfect energy line shifts, winning all of their matchups and even hemming Minnesota’s top players in their zone for a stretch. Even my much-maligned duo of Ryan Wilson and Nate Guenin drove possession well taking mostly defensive zonestarts – which Roy did well to feed to his more ‘passive defense’ players. I’m not convinced our bottom units can keep this up, but it’s still incredible how much better Duchene’s presence makes this team. Not only does it bolster the personnel on lines below his own, but the tougher matchups he draws allows the bottom lines to win their own.
So bring on this deciding game. Both special teams units and all but Stastny’s line won their matchups on Monday, and if not for some opening road jitters, the series would already be over. My NHL.com bracket says Avs in 7, so I’ll add the following predictions: Semyon Varlamov earns a shutout, Duchene scores an Ovechtrick, Nathan MacKinnon breaks at least three new scoring records, Cody McLeod cures cancer, and Erik Johnson knocks Ryan Suter into low Earth orbit.
It’s been a great series, no doubt about that. Here’s to making it a victorious one too.