In hockey as in few other sports, things rarely play out like they’re supposed to. (If they did, the Avalanche wouldn’t have made it to this series, let alone be headed for a Game 7 in San Jose after a wild 4-3 OT win on Monday night.) The storyline/scouting report for Avs-Sharks was supposed to be simple: Colorado had the firepower on the front end, but the Sharks had the depth. Neither has exactly worked out as promised.
San Jose, the first team in a decade to have four 30-goal scorers, has relied mostly on its usual suspects in this series, while Colorado has gotten multiple goals from six different players. The other side of that coin is what’s happened with Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan McKinnon-Mikko Rantanen—quite possibly the best line in hockey. Yet it’d been quiet in this series, or perhaps held in check by the Sharks, depending on how you want to parcel out credit or blame. Through five games and 60 minutes of Game 6, the line had combined for just four goals—three of them by MacKinnon.
Landeskog, with a goal and an assist in Game 2 and zero points since, had been getting increasingly frustrated. “Every time I try to pick a corner [to shoot at], it hasn’t been working for me,” he complained. On the brink of elimination, his line’s struggles would’ve been the story of the series if San Jose had scored in OT. It did not, in large part because Landeskog did not so let himself get flustered by his scoring drought that he declined to do the other stuff, the dirty work that leads to chances and goals.
Two-plus minutes into overtime, Landeskog dumped the puck into the Sharks’ zone then raced after it to lay a hit on Erik Karlsson in the corner, disrupting any chance of a counter and giving backup time to arrive. So it was that when Landeskog regained his skates, Cale Makar was there to keep the puck in the zone and find him down low to beat Martin Jones for the winner.
Despite Landeskog finally getting back on the scoresheet, the Sharks saw Game 6 as more of the same. “Their depth guys beat us tonight,” said Logan Couture. “We got beat by J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost. Second, third, fourth line.”
Landeskog’ll take it, because, really, who can predict anything?
“Sixty minutes away from the Western Conference final,” Landeskog said. “Who would have thought before the season? And who would have thought before this series or whatever? For us, we keep believing and you just got to instill that doubt in that team on the other side. At this point, I (bet) the last thing they wanted to do was go back and play another one at home in San Jose.”
Even if it’s surprising how we got to this point, this matchup has been ridiculously even. The teams alternated goals in Game 6, and have alternated wins in the series. The Sharks lead the series in goals 17-16. Game 7 is anyone’s to win, and any line’s.