Avalanche turn in 'most complete' effort yet to force Game 7

April 29, 2023, 7:39 AM

SEATTLE -- Needing answers to stave off elimination, the Colorado Avalanche found quite a few Friday in a 4-1 series-tying win in Game 6 against the Seattle Kraken.

Exactly how did the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche force a Game 7 on Sunday against the upstart Kraken at Ball Arena? They had what everyone in their dressing room collectively described as their strongest and most complete performance of the postseason to this point.

"I think it was the most complete of this series," said Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen, who finished with a goal and an assist. "We haven't had a full 60 yet, like a full good 60. But today we did. We played three good periods even though they scored the first goal against. But we stuck to our identity."

All the items that challenged the Avalanche through the first five games of the series became details that aided them to keep their season alive.

The Kraken scored first for the sixth straight time this series. It's just that Game 6 saw the Avalanche score four straight goals, with a few of those coming from unexpected faces.

Rantanen scored the game-tying goal with 20 seconds left in the first period. Yet it was veteran defenseman Erik Johnson who scored what proved to be the winning goal with more than 13 minutes left in the second period.

The Avalanche's longest-serving member played 63 games this season without scoring a goal, only for his first of the year to be the one that kept his team alive. Johnson's goal was also significant because it was the first goal to be scored by a player outside the Avalanche's top-six forward group or a defenseman who wasn't Devon Toews or Cale Makar.

"[ Pavel Francouz] told me before the game I was going to have a hat trick, so he's mad at me after the game that I only had one," Johnson joked. "At my point in my career, I'm trying to do whatever I can to help the team win. If that's put a goal in the net, if that's blocking a shot, if that's making a big hit, you gotta adapt your game and evolve as the game evolves."

Getting a pair of goals from winger Artturi Lehkonen solidified the Avalanche's lead. But it was what they did in the build-up around those goals that allowed them to find separation from the Kraken.

One of the ways the Kraken kept the Avalanche in check was with an aggressive forecheck that takes away time and space while also limiting scoring chances.

The Avalanche's forecheck did just that against the Kraken. It's how they were able to limit the Kraken to one goal on a series-low 23 shots.

Another avenue the Avalanche used for success was by controlling the puck. The Avs finished with 38 shots and had a shot-attempt percentage of nearly 57%, according to Natural Stat Trick.

And even though the Avs were 0-for-5 on the power play, they still generated more consistent movement in Game 6 than they did all series.

"We finally got to wear them down," Avalanche forward Evan Rodrigues said. "We were hanging onto the puck and making them defend. When you're consistently in the o-zone like they were to us in the first five games, you have energy to defend. I thought we started to take it to them. We were getting first on pucks because their D was starting to get tired and that's what's been key for us all year and I thought we finally did that tonight."

It has been a hectic week for the Avs, one that started with them dropping two straight games to fall into a 3-1 series hole. Then came the Thursday revelation surrounding Valeri Nichushkin, the hulking Avalanche two-way forward who hadn't played since Game 2 and was indefinitely ruled out for the rest of the series for what Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said were "personal reasons."

"There's a lot of off the ice things going on like we all know," said Rantanen, one of the team's three alternate captains. "But I think we were still dialed in about just winning the one game and see what happens in Game 7. I feel like guys kept it together really well and we were dialed in."