Avs seek answers after Blues make right moves, tie series

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Nathan MacKinnon saw a team that just couldn’t get up the ice with its customary speed. Couldn’t generate quality scoring chances. Couldn’t get in a flow.

That wasn’t them.

“We were bad,” the Colorado forward acknowledged after a 4-1 loss to St. Louis that tied the second-round series at a game apiece. “Really bad.”

The Blues made all the right moves — from shuffling their lines to generate more offense to finding a way to clog up the middle and frustrate the Avalanche’s fast flyers.

It’s now Colorado’s move in this high stakes game of chess on ice, with the series shifting to St. Louis for Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

Everything’s on the table, too, for the top seed in the West. That includes line changes and possibly swapping out players.

“You’re not going to win in the playoffs if you don’t bring your best game,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Friday after practice. “We weren’t even close last night and it’s on us. …. Our best game is to be determined. We’re always in search of the perfect game.”

First order of business: Finding a way to create more space for MacKinnon and defenseman Cale Makar to maneuver. The Blues made it awfully difficult for them through the neutral zone in Game 2. Makar has yet to register a point after a three-goal, seven-assist series in a first-round sweep of Nashville.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

There’s also the curious case of Mikko Rantanen, who led the team in points during the regular season but has yet to score in these playoffs (he does have seven assists).

“Do you think Mikko is playing his best hockey that you’ve seen him play?” Bednar quizzed. “We need him to be an impact player.”

The Avalanche potentially could shake things up, possibly insert players like forwards Alex Newhook and Logan O’Connor into the lineup.

Or they may just shuffle their lines similar to the way the Blues did before Game 2. St. Louis got instant results by pairing David Perron (two goals) with Pavel Buchnevich (two assists) and Ryan O’Reilly (one assist).

Colorado may reunite the top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog. But Bednar added he was pleased of the performance of Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Artturi Lehkonen on a line. As for the mood of the squad, Bednar said the “guys are in good spirits.”

“They understand it’s about us mostly — mostly about us,” he added.

Still, there’s this always hovering over the Avs: They have lost in the second round in each of the last three postseasons. Last season, they were up 2-0 on Vegas before losing four straight.

“There’s no reason to panic,” defenseman Bowen Byram said. “You’re not going to win every game in the playoffs. They’re a good team. They know how to win. They’ve won before. … It’s just readjusting.”

Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington has befuddled Colorado. After stopping 51 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1, Binnington turned back 30 on Thursday. Since 2019, when he led the Blues to the Stanley Cup title as a rookie, he’s recorded a 2.74 goals-against average.

“He made saves when he needed to — big time,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

Colorado’s mission is to take make sure he doesn’t track the puck as well as he has been through the opening two games.

[MORE: Makar, McDavid lead Conn Smythe watch after First Round]

“Goalies are so good now that if they’re going to see everything, they’re going to stop it,” Bednar said. “Breaking the goalie’s eyesight, even if it’s a moving screen, it’s uber important. … We’ve got to get into his eyes.”

Really, though, it had a lot to do with St. Louis not allowing Colorado to zip around the ice. The Blues did what most haven’t been able to do — slow them down.

They certainly wouldn’t mind a repeat performance at home.

“It’s playoff hockey. It’s going to come down to competing at a high level, winning battles, making sure you’re playing with good structure and every guy that’s dressed needs to be at his best,” Berube said. “That’s what we got (in Game 2). Every guy was at his best, in my opinion.”

For Colorado, a road win begins with quieting the crowd early. They won both games in Nashville by scoring first.

“We get to go on the road and hopefully steal one there, hopefully two,” MacKinnon said. “We’ve got to forget about (Game 2) and move on and get back to the way we can play.”

Game 1 – May 17: Avalanche 3, Blues 2 (OT)
Game 2 – May 19: Blues 4, Avalanche 1
Game 3 – May 21: Avalanche at Blues, 8 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 4 – May 23: Avalanche at Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 5 – May 25: Blues at Avalanche, TBD
*Game 6 – May 27: Avalanche at Blues, TBD
*Game 7 – May 29: Blues at Avalanche, TBD

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.