A tightly contested series comes to an end tonight, as the Avalanche and Sharks face off in San Jose for Game 7. The Avalanche were able to force this final game with an overtime win in Game 6, but there were some worrying signs despite the win. Specifically, the Sharks seem to have found a way to stifle the top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabe Landeskog.
Having last change should have helped Jared Bednar unleash his best weapons, as Kenny Matheson detailed before Game 6, but their top line saw 11:01 of their 16:45 even-strength playing time matched up against Marc-Édouard Vlasic. They did get the overtime winner with 44 on the ice, but in regulation, they were eaten alive by the defensive defenseman.
Now obviously Vlasic isn’t the sole reason for this (there are four other players on the ice after all), but no other Sharks faced the top line for longer in Game 6. The Avalanche needed a career night from J.T. Compher to send the game to overtime, where “Captain Game” Landeskog capitalized on a Sharks turnover to force Game 7. They may have gotten the results, but the process was questionable at best.
The Sharks will get the last change advantage back tonight and Peter DeBoer will no doubt be looking to send out Vlasic against that top line any chance he gets. Shutting down Colorado’s big guns will be critical because while the Sharks have the edge in total goals by a slim margin, the Avalanche have been the more dangerous team through six games.
Finally, a big reason why we’re at Game 7 tonight is the stellar play of Martin Jones, who rebounded in a big way after a very up and down first round. Jones has a -6.3 actual to expected goals against in this series, meaning he saved his team just about one goal every game relative to league average goaltending. That’s second to only Tuukka Rask, who was unreal in Boston’s 6-game series against the Blue Jackets. With three games decided by one goal, four if you count the 4-2 Game 3 that included an empty netter, Jones has kept his team in games time and time again.
So, what will win out tonight? The Sharks newfound defensive dominance and Martin Jones’ play, or Colorado’s speed and offensive firepower? With a spot to the Conference Finals on the line, this promises to be a great game to watch. And if you’re looking for a hero, our own Kenny Matheson highlighted a player he believes is due to break out and be the difference-maker in this win-or-go-home game.