Are we sure that the top teams and bottom seeds of each conferences didn’t switch bodies before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The Colorado Avalanche now have a 2-1 series lead against the Calgary Flames, which isn’t as extreme as the Blue Jackets’ 3-0 edge on the shocked Lightning. Still, if you only watched the Avs and Flames in Colorado’s lopsided 6-2 win, you’d be convinced that the Avalanche are the dominant force.
While Flames goalie Mike Smith saw some of his playoff magic wear off hear, it’s not as if this was an even contest where Smith simply let his team down, which is how people imagined many Calgary losses would play out entering the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
Instead, the Avalanche just bombarded the Flames, basically all night long.
Nathan MacKinnon carried over the adrenaline rush from scoring Game 2’s thrilling overtime-winner, scoring two goals and one assist, all in the first period in helping Colorado build an early 3-0 lead. His assist came on a memorable first-ever playoff goal for Cale Makar, who made a sensational debut.
The Avs rarely relented. Again, it’s fair to ask if the Flames should turn from Smith to David Rittich for Game 4, but they’d be kidding themselves if they thought that a goalie swap would heal all of the things that ail them. After all, it’s not Smith’s fault that Colorado generated a gaudy 56-29 shots on goal advantage, including a 16-9 third period where you’d expect Calgary to make better gains during “garbage time.”
The Avalanche kept the Flames on their heels with speed and skill, but also all-out effort. Gabriel Landeskog is just one of the Colorado players who helped Philipp Grubauer keep more pucks out of the net.
While MacKinnon and the Avs’ other biggest stars delivered in a thunderous way, the Flames’ biggest names are landing with a thud.
Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mark Giordano all went pointless during Game 3. Gaudreau’s been limited to just an assist through his first three games during this Round 1 series.
The Flames boast the sort of depth that Gaudreau’s line doesn’t have to dominate, particularly when Tkachuk is clicking when “The 3M Line” is together. Yet, so far, the Avalanche’s top players are absolutely dominating this series, and Colorado’s depth players are getting it done. It’s one thing for Mikko Rantanen to get two points; it’s another when Ian Cole and Matt Nieto also enjoy two-point nights.
With Colorado boasting home-ice advantage in an unusual high-altitude environment, the Flames must push through the burning in their lungs to get back into this one. In approaching Game 4, they have a lot of questions to answer, and probably need to take a long, sobering look in the mirror.
Avalanche – Flames Game 4 takes place at the Pepsi Center at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBCSN; livestream)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.