Back to practice while waiting to see who they'll play next
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Now that the Avalanche have advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they are hardly satisfied.
“We didn’t fight this hard to a., get into the playoffs and b., fight this hard against the Flames to move on and then not do more damage,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said after practice Monday. “I mean, for us, we’re just getting going. We’ve obviously been playing well here for the last month or so.
“You don’t hear stories about great teams that got kicked out of the second round. You get your name on the Cup for a reason; you’re the last team standing, you win that last game of the season, and that’s the goal. We play this game for a reason, and that’s to lift the Cup at the end of the day.”
The Avalanche won’t know until Tuesday night whether they’ll play San Jose or Vegas in the second round. The Sharks stayed alive with a 2-1 double-overtime win Sunday, so the teams will play a deciding Game 7 in Las Vegas.
“I kind of watch as a fan and try to pick up on things that each team is doing,” coach Jared Bednar said. “We’ve seen both teams a number of times, so we know some of the challenges they bring to our team. We’re trying to formulate a game plan on what we need to do against them to win, so that’s always in the back of my mind. I’m just trying to enjoy the game and see how it goes.”
The Avalanche were 2-1-0 against the Golden Knights this season, 0-3-0 against the Sharks.
“I don’t know which would be a better matchup, they have their own strengths,” Nathan MacKinnon said. “They’re both really, really good teams, but we beat the second-best team in the league in terms of their record in five (games). That’s going to boost any team’s confidence and we feel good.
“We had a good practice today and I think everybody’s mind is in the right place. No one’s comfortable, no one’s satisfied, it’s one round. I think the West is wide open.”
Until the Avalanche know the identity of their opponent, Bednar said the focus in practice is for players to maintain the competitive edge they displayed during the final weeks of the season and against Calgary.
“We had a couple days off to get some rest, to get over some sickness that’s been going through our locker room, some injuries, so we’re moving in the right direction and getting healthy,” he said.
Defenseman Samuel Girard, who missed the last three games with an upper-body injury, practiced Monday while wearing a non-contact jersey. Bednar said there’s no time frame for his return. Forward Derick Brassard is healthy and practiced after missing the last three games because of illness.
“Staying sharp will be the focus all week,” Bednar said. “The preparation for whoever we face is mostly done on video, so now it’s staying sharp and not losing that competitive edge. We are making sure we have some competitive drills in there.
“The things that made us good in the Calgary series were that we were highly competitive and our details were good, execution was good. I want to see all three of those things in every practice this week.”
MacKinnon was gracious Monday while responding to Flames defenseman Mark Giordano’s comments after the Avalanche’s 5-1 series-clinching win Friday in which he compared him favorably to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.
“For anyone who doesn’t think MacKinnon is one of the best, if not the best, they might want to look at this series,” Giordano told the Calgary Herald. “Because he can really turn it up to another level and (he) really took control. A tough player to play against, and I thought he really took control and led their team.”
MacKinnon had three goals and five assists in the series, second to Mikko Rantanen’s five goals and four assists, but he was the team’s driving force.
“Really nice of him,” MacKinnon said. “He’s a great defender and I told him I hope he wins the Norris. He’s a great hockey player and he has a cool story about going over to the KHL in his mid-20s and he’s probably going to win the Norris.
“You get compliments from some of the best defensemen in the league, you know you’re doing something right, but I have a lot of help and Mikko’s been awesome -- Gabe, Tyson (Barrie), Cale (Makar) -- everybody. It wasn’t just me, it was a total team effort to win that series in five."
As for being compared to Crosby, MacKinnon said: “I don’t think I’m at that level. I think he’s top five ever to put on a pair of skates. I’m not at that level, but hopefully one day I can be close.”