EDMONTON — Come fall, history tells us that good pitching beats good hitting. Come spring, stingy defence beats firewagon offence every time.
The Colorado Avalanche are averaging nearly four goals a game, yet after Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Dallas Stars they still find themselves in a 3-1 hole in this second-round Western Conference series.
The lesson: Colorado won’t score itself out of this hole, until it can defend its way out of it first.
“You’ve got a point there,” Colorado’s eloquent captain Gabriel Landeskog. “Yup. We’ve got to be better defensively, no doubt.”
Let’s take that thought and run with it.
“Do you have enough goaltending to win a playoff series?” head coach Jared Bednar was asked, in reference to another leaky outing by goalie Pavel Francouz, thrust into the starter’s role when Philipp Grubauer went down.
“He’s got to be better, for sure,” Bednar said. “They’re making it hard on him, on the power play especially. But we’ve seen Frankie be way better. So, um, I don’t want to talk about (Game 5)’s goaltending yet. But, we know he can be better.”
Look, we’re talking Grubauer. Not Johnny Bauer.
He has nearly 200 games of NHL experience to Francouz’s 42. In a series that has seen both No. 1’s go down to injury, it’s advantage Dallas with Anton Khudobin — as good a No. 2 as there is in the game today — minding the twine for the Stars.
“Frankie is a great goalie, and Hutch (No. 3 Michael Hutchinson) is a proven NHL goalie. It’s not on them,” Avalanche captain Nathan MacKinnon said. “It’s on us to give them easy saves, easy looks. We’re letting [Dallas’s] big bodies stand in front of the net and tip pucks unharmed right now.”
The facts from Game 4 are as such: Dallas built a 3-0 first period lead on two rebound goals, followed by a brilliant Jamie Benn deflection. Colorado didn’t have a shot on goal until the 18:26 mark of the opening period, but had the Avs received any goaltending, the deficit would have been two at the most.
The teams hadn’t played in four days, and it was Dallas that had legs in the first period.
Colorado? They were on Pacific time, starting an hour late.
“They came out hard and earned their bounces, and all of the sudden we’re down 3-0,” Landeskog said. “We started playin’, and we got better as the game wore on. Especially in the second period.”
Valeri Nichushkin, who played 57 games for Dallas in the 2018-19 season without scoring a goal, had a pair for Colorado. But as has been the case for this entire series, the Stars’ depth scoring buried the Avalanche.
Roope Hintz had a goal and an assist. Radek Faksa, a goal and two helpers. John Klingberg had a goal and an assist, while Denis Gurianov notched his eighth goal of the playoffs, vaulting him into second in the league behind Vancouver’s Bo Horvat (nine).
Budding superstar defenceman Miro Heiskanen had an assist, setting a franchise record for most points by defenseman in a single playoffs with 16. He passed Craig Hartsburg from the 1981 run with the North Stars, which ended in a five-game, Stanley Cup Final loss to the dynastic New York Islanders.
If Heiskanen played in a higher profile market, he’d have been identified as a star months ago. As it is, this playoff run will cement him as a name that young D-men like Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar will have to work to remain on par with.
That’s how good No. 4 in green is. Truly, this 21-year-old will be in the Norris Trophy conversation for the next 15 years — perhaps even Finland’s answer to Niklas Lidstrom.
“There’s more to come. There’s better to come,” said his head coach Rick Bowness, himself emerging as one of the true feel-good stories of this strange-but-true playoff bracket. “It’s nice that he got this record, that’s fine. But Miro’s value to our team is just not only on the points that he’s generating but the quality minutes that he gives us and his ability to get us out of trouble.
“I know there’s a lot of attention on his points and everything else, but there should be just as much attention on his ability to get us out of trouble. His ability to skate the puck out of the zone. His ability to make the right play at the right time to get us out of trouble. His teammates and I, we recognize his value not only in terms of what he brings offensively but what he does just in terms of controlling the play and giving us those important, quality minutes.”
Can you say, “franchise defenceman?”
Dallas has one in Heiskanen, and they have a stranglehold on this series with Cup favorite Colorado, up 3-1 and confident in their goalie. Meanwhile, with Game 5 set for Monday night, Bednar gave Hutchinson the final 9:21 of Game 4 — his first minutes of these NHL playoffs — as a tune up.
We’re betting Bednar goes with the former Winnipeg Jets backup in Game 5 on Monday.
The third string goalie, with the season on the line, and a red hot Stars team that smells blood. This wasn’t where the Colorado Avalanche thought they’d find themselves on Aug. 31.
But that’s 2020 for you, isn’t it?