Golden Knights’ experience advantage has Avalanche on brink

Mark Stone scored the overtime winner as the Vegas Golden Knights completed the comeback to earn a 3-2 win and push the Avalanche to the brink of elimination.

The Colorado Avalanche are on the clock.

On the clock to prove they’re not just a roster full of regular season danglers. On the clock to prove they are not a bunch of “morning glories,” as Pat Quinn used to say, describing players who were fantastic at the morning skate but not nearly as effective come crunch time.

Colorado has all the skill and superstar nameplates, but not enough of what Vegas has right now. The Avs are great when the going is light, when the free-flow game is zipping up and down the ice.

When it comes time to win, however, they aren’t ready. Not like the Vegas Golden Knights are.

The Golden Knights know what it takes, and how to get it done. They have a goalie who makes sure he is the best guardian on the ice when the chips are down — even after letting in a softy Tuesday — and a roster full of players who don’t make the fatal mistake that Colorado made three times in losing Game 5

Colorado? They wish they had what Vegas has, a savvy feeling of experience that helped them to erase a 2-0 deficit after two periods, and win Game 5 in overtime on Mark Stone’s goal.

“Let’s be honest — that game should have been over after two,” admitted Stone, whose team hung around just in case Colorado felt like tossing it away, and were in perfect position to accept the opportunities when the Avalanche did just that.

A giveaway by Andre Burakovsky on the kind of play that should never be made when you’re up 2-0 early in the third. Alex Tuch made it 2-1.

Then Gabriel Landeskog — the captain, for Pete’s sake — makes a lateral pass on a four-on-two break that is behind Ryan Graves, hits his heel and goes the other way for a three-on-two goal.

In a game of inches, Landeskog gave the Golden Knights a few feet. Maybe a few yards.

It was the kind of pass that experienced, winning captains do not make — can not make — but he made it, and his team is now on the brink.

In the opening minute of overtime Graves had a shot blocked, then made the brutal mistake of reloading and failing once again to get the puck through. Next thing he knew he had a front-row seat for Stone’s top shelf wrister, yet another goal that came seconds after an Avalanche player had full control of the puck with a reasonable amount of time to make the right decision.

Inexcusable?

If it is, head coach Jared Bednar considers his leaders too fragile to say so.

“I would say, I loved the way we played tonight. I loved it,” said Bednar, who got zero results out of challenging his top players after Game 3, so clearly has chosen to stroke them instead. “We were aggressive, on our toes, playing to win the game. To our identity.

“I didn’t think we had a lot of turnovers tonight. But we had three and they led to our goals against.”

Colorado was 31-1-1 when leading after two periods in the regular season. They were 3-0 in the playoffs.

But they choked on Tuesday night. With due respect to Vegas, the Avs choked on this game big time.

“We’re here in this position because of our depth,” said Vegas coach Pete DeBoer. “The ability to play four lines, six defencemen, and our goaltender was outstanding tonight.

“You’re coming into a building where this team hasn’t lost (in regulation) in 20-something games. That’s two-and-a-half months of hockey. We knew there would be moments we’d have to weather the storm. To bend but don’t break. It was a great road game, and we found a way to win in overtime.”

And the Avalanche found a way to lose it.

I know, it sounds like we’re not giving enough credit to Vegas, and they deserve plenty. But teams that have regular-season success like Colorado had, and then cough up third-period leads in the playoffs, are flawed.

Now, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, this Avalanche team has to prove that they are not flawed beyond repair.

That they can be more like Vegas.

“We’ve been a team for four years, we’re resilient,” said Vegas winger Jonathan Marchessault, a true gamer. “We don’t sit back. We knew we’d have a chance if we came out hard in the third period. Good teams find a way to win a game.”

And team that finds a way to lose this game?

What is it we say about them?

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