SAN JOSE – Nathan MacKinnon had been shot up with a needle to stay in the game, sending a powerful message to the bench that everything possible should be done to keep their run going.
It’s that sort of dedication his entire team exhibited that was part of what made it so hard for Gabriel Landeskog to swallow the turn of events leading to their ouster.
The Colorado Avalanche‘s Cinderella run is over, in part because of an offside call on Landeskog that overturned a game-tying goal that could have swung momentum in his club’s favour during Wednesday’s Game 7.
Instead, the eighth-ranked squad was dealt a blow they couldn’t recover from.
“It’s just a clumsy mistake – get off the ice,” said Colorado’s captain in a quiet dressing room.
“If I could have done something different on that play I would have jumped the boards a lot quicker.”
He didn’t, leaving Avalanche fans wondering if that was the difference in a seven-game series with the San Jose Sharks decided by one measly goal.
Full marks to this year’s “Hockey Houdini,” escaping another Game 7 scare.
Midway through a 2-1 game the Avalanche had so valiantly worked to crawl back into, a Colin Wilson goal that appeared to tie the affair was overturned minutes later by a coach’s challenge that determined it was offside
The culprit, at the far end of the ice, was Landeskog, who had turned the puck over at the blue-line and then skated to the bench for a change that took him too long. While waiting for the door to open, his skates were just inside the blue-line as the Avs led another foray into San Jose’s zone that was eventually finished by Wilson.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen that before — I was just as surprised as anybody,” said Landeskog of the challenge and ultimate gut-punch.
“I came off and all of a sudden two seconds later, we score. I didn’t think anything of it, to be honest with you. Then we were wondering why they didn’t drop the puck and, obviously, I was still on the ice. We saw replays from the bench and from what we saw, it could have gone either way.”
The official ruling from the league determined, “Landeskog did not legally tag up at the blue-line prior to the puck entering the offensive zone,” as per Rule 83.3.
It was the right call.
“Tough call, because if you’re wrong, it’s a penalty,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said of the challenge. “But it was a game-changing call, and we’ve had those go against us this year at different points. It was a huge call and a gutsy call by our video coach, Dan Darrow, who gets big props for that.”
MacKinnon said the belief from his coach on the bench was that his team got a raw deal, making it even harder to swallow at a crucial time in a tight-checking game.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said afterward he didn’t want to discuss the offside.
The rest of the hockey world does.
“I haven’t watched it in slo-mo, like I’m sure everybody at home did. Hopefully, the linesman got it right, to be honest with you,” said Landeskog.
“[Linesmen] Derek [Amell] and Scott [Cherrey] are out there working that game tonight and I don’t envy that position at all to have to make that decision in a Game 7 like this. It’s a tough job, and it’s a tough call to make.
“I’m going to take blame for that because I could have done a lot of things different. Ultimately, my skates were on the ice.
“But hey, I don’t know if that’s all you guys want to talk about – the offside, but I think there was a lot more to the game than that.”
Indeed, there was.
Pavelski’s goal six minutes into his return from a nasty head injury two weeks earlier whipped the crowd into a frenzy that got nuttier when he assisted on Tomas Hertl’s snipe five minutes later.
Tremendous theatre, amplified by his Jumbotron showing that turned his smile and fist pump for the camera into another stirring ovation.
All this while MacKinnon was in the dressing room getting X-rays and a needle, so he could return with four minutes left in the first, following his awkward collision with the boards on his second shift.
“I have a Grade 2 or 3 AC [shoulder] sprain,” said MacKinnon after the loss.
“I just got shot up mid-first. They checked to see if I cracked my collarbone and it wasn’t, so I was good. I just got a shot and I didn’t really feel it after that. After the second it started wearing off a little bit. It sucks – I haven’t gotten hurt in a long time, a year-and-a-half, and it happens in Game 7 of the second round, so I was pissed.”
The team was flustered, wondering if or when its best player would return.
Shortly after he did, Mikko Rantanen gave the visitors life with a goal seven seconds from the first intermission.
It wasn’t enough, as solid goaltending from Martin Jones and stifling defence from a Sharks club hell-bent on shutting down MacKinnon did exactly that for the third-straight game.
Joonas Donskoi put the hosts up 3-1 five minutes after the disallowed Avs goal, setting the stage for a third period where a Tyson Jost goal 51 seconds in made things interesting.
It was Landeskog with the two best chances in the final two minutes with the goalie pulled, to no avail.
The Sharks and the Blues will contest the West Conference crown.
While the loss was paramount on MacKinnon’s mind, what bothered him almost as much was hearing Landeskog was assuming some blame in the loss.
“I haven’t even thought of that,” said MacKinnon, frowning.
“Gabe is the most selfless human being I think I’ve ever met and ever played with, for sure. If he feels bad, he’s not saying that to get attention, he means it.
“Shows what kind of guy he is – no one even thought about blaming Gabe and he’s still taking responsibility. That’s what kind of captain he is.”
The captain on the other side was unquestionably the game’s first star, less than three hours after he declared himself fit after the pre-game warmup to return to action.
“It was nice, I’m not going to lie,” he said of the dream-like return he started envisioning as a possibility after Game 5.
“To come out, score early, get that shot of adrenaline, which was going since the drive into the rink. The crowd was great. Yeah, it was fun.”
“I think we earned this series. They gave us a great run. That was a good team over there. “
It all adds to his illustrious Game 7 history, which has seen him score five goals and add three assists in seven outings.
“The further you distance yourself from this game and this playoff run it’ll be easier to digest,” summed up Landeskog in a room full of players who should hold their heads high.
“I’m going to look back at it as a great season with a lot of ups and down. The way we battled the last month of the season and this playoff, I’m really proud of the group we have. We were counted out numerous times, but as a group we believed and it was a big step for this organization.”