DENVER — Nathan MacKinnon received a text message from a good buddy just before the start of the playoffs.
The basic point: Attack and dictate the pace.
The speedy Colorado Avalanche forward has taken Sidney Crosby‘s advice to heart. Credit Crosby with an assist.
MacKinnon is humming right now, with at least a point in eight straight playoff games . His goal in Game 4 helped the Avalanche to a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks and tied the Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Saturday in San Jose (10 p.m. EDT, NBCSN).
”He’s really good. He needs just three steps and he’s gone,” Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said of MacKinnon. ”One of the fastest players in the NHL. We have to be a little bit on him.”
The velocity of the 23-year-old has been dizzying. MacKinnon displayed it in the regular season with a 99-point campaign (41 goals, 58 assists). Crosby reminded him to keep on attacking once the playoffs started.
Both from the Halifax, Nova Scotia, area and Crosby and MacKinnon frequently train together in the offseason. Watching the work ethic of the Penguins’ superstar eight years his senior has rubbed off.
”I see how hard he works,” MacKinnon said, ”and committed he is.”
Over the years, MacKinnon has been the one watching Crosby make deep postseason runs (three Stanley Cup titles). Asked if Crosby might be tuning in from a bar somewhere to watch him, MacKinnon joked: ”He’ll be at his fat crib in Pittsburgh watching me.”
”I mean, we talk a lot. He’s my biggest supporter right now,” MacKinnon added. ”It’s kind of like a brother relationship. I’m rooting for him. I know he’s rooting for me. It’s cool to have his support and get some wisdom from him whenever he’s available.”
One big lesson about the postseason he’s gleaned from Crosby is this: There will be plenty of highs and lows along the way. Don’t get caught up in them.
”Every game is a new opportunity to be better and win it. It doesn’t matter the night before,” said MacKinnon, who’s been to two of Crosby’s Cup parties, but never has touched hockey’s most prized trophy. ”It’s kind of the way I’m looking at things now.”
MacKinnon’s eight-game points streak is tied for the third-longest by an Avalanche player during the postseason. The record is 10 straight by Joe Sakic in 1996 when Colorado hoisted the Stanley Cup.
”They’re good. They’re going to create stuff,” Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson said. ”We have to find a way around it. We just have to learn from it and go back to San Jose and put up a better effort next game.”
The eighth-seeded Avalanche are playing with an elevated sense of confidence after beating top seed Calgary and now going skate-to-skate with the Sharks.
”We feel like we can win the Cup now,” MacKinnon said. ”We didn’t know if we would make the playoffs and now we feel pretty confident we can beat anybody. It’s a cool feeling.”
BLUE JACKETS at BRUINS, series tied 2-2 (7:15 p.m. EDT, NBC)
This might have the Blue Jackets a little concerned: Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is starting to heat up. The trio accounted for three goals in a 4-1 win in Game 4.
”We’ve gotten a lot of heat, but if you break down the chances we’ve had game-to-game, we’re getting five, six really good opportunities every game,” Marchand said. ”It’s a matter of time before those guys score goals. There’s no panic regardless of the outside attention from the media. … We’re not concerned about that. We know what’s in this group. We believe in our group. We don’t expect to score every goal. That’s why we’re a good team. We have a good team all the way around. Everyone expects to pull their weight and do their job.”
Bergeron scored twice on the power play in Game 4.
”We gave them a chance to get going now, by sitting in the box too much,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. ”That’s the hard part about this game. We’re going to bounce back. I have no problem with where we’re going to be when we start the game in Boston.”
After the game Saturday, the series returns to Columbus on Monday and then shifts back to Boston for Game 7 on Wednesday, if necessary.