Colorado Avalanche: 3 Essential Keys for the All-Important Game 5 vs Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 28: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole (28) greets Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) after defeating San Jose Sharks 4-3 at the SAP Center during the second game of the Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals April 28, 2019. San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) skates behind the net. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 28: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole (28) greets Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) after defeating San Jose Sharks 4-3 at the SAP Center during the second game of the Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals April 28, 2019. San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) skates behind the net. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /
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The Colorado Avalanche face their latest most important game of the season as they play the Sharks in San Jose. This game is close to a must-win if the Avs want to advance.

The Colorado Avalanche openly stated that Game 4 in Colorado was the biggest game of the year

for them. Well, guess what you get for winning that all-important game — the next biggest game of the year.

In fact, and I’m scared to even type this but here goes, I think… this Game 5 will determine the series. The Avs don’t want to have to win a Game 7 in San Jose to advance, and the only way to prevent that is by winning tonight. In San Jose. 😬

They can do it. I have confidence in them. Here are three essential keys, though, for winning this huge game.

Break the Trap

The trap is one of the most effective defensive systems in hockey, and it is reviled by fans because of it. The 1-3-1 trap slows down the neutral zone and limits talented teams.

So, of course, that’s why the San Jose Sharks are employing it against the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are the faster, more skilled team. If the ice is open wide, few teams can keep up with them. Of those few teams, the Sharks are not one of them.

One of the common methods for breaking the trap is the dump-and-chase system. Dump-and-chase is about as reviled as the trap — the two circle each other like diseased planets. However, when the Avs employed this system against San Jose, they generated scoring chances.

A system that works well with Avs superstar Nathan MacKinnon in play is the dagger. (I made that name up.) Essentially, the team passes to the player who will draw defenders out of the “3” in the 1-3-1 formation — that would be MacK. Once the defenders have broken formation, the other players can find the freed-up ice to make plays.

Enter Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, and Mikko Rantanen, who can also pass back to MacKinnon if needed.

Employ MacKinnon

As Mike Kelly of The Point details, the Sharks have found a way to contain MacKinnon in certain situations while being unable to fully stop him. A lot of times they openly interfere with Nate, the game plan basically being “Stop MacKinnon from being the one who beats us to our net.”

I daresay Nate is faster than any player in San Jose. If he can break free with the puck, they have no chance. And once he starts slicing and dicing with the puck, forget about it. It’s openly stated that MacK is the best player still in the playoffs.

Space does open up when the Avalanche have a power play. Maybe it’s time for Nate to take a page out of his mentor’s book and start flopping more. Or simply the Avs need to employ their speed so the Sharks are forced to take penalties to stop them.

Shut Down the Sharks

More from Mile High Sticking

The Colorado Avalanche’s blueline has long taken abuse, and often rightfully so. However, the defensive corps has now become an area of strength for the team.

As I detailed in a previous post, Erik Johnson answered the critics — of whom he was the loudest — on his Game 3 play with a solid Game 4. All of his blueline charges have followed suit, especially defensive partner Ian Cole.

Defenseman rookie Cale Makar needs no help on his offense, and he’s learning quickly on the defense needed in the playoffs against a gigantic team. Luckily, he’s got Sam “Beefcake” Girard who can even defend without a stick and will spin-o-rama out of danger when necessary.

And Tyson Barrie and Nikita Zadorov complement each other. In their own weird way they work.

At the back you have the most important defenseman — goalie Philipp Grubauer. It would be convenient if Grubi were perfect again and threw another shutout, but well take his making the key saves to keep Colorado in the game.

Next. MacKinninon's Sick Shootout Goal. dark

The Colorado Avalanche have a real chance to win this game. And, like I mentioned above, winning this game gives them the best chance at winning this series and advancing to the third round for the first time since 2002.

By the way, it was the Sharks Colorado beat in that second-round series. Let’s count that as good mojo.

How to Enjoy the Game

Time: 8:00 pm MT
TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
Radio: FM 92.5/AM 950

After tonight, the action returns to Colorado for Game 6.