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Dallas Looks to Maintain Pressure Against Colorado in Game 3

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The bounces went the Stars’ way in Game 2, but offensive zone execution is needed to keep the Avalanche down.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche Gerry Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

A fast start by the Colorado Avalanche wasn’t enough to put the game out of reach. Neither was extended time on the power play. Two quick power-play goals by the Dallas Stars, followed by a fortunate bounce off of Alexander Radulov’s chest was enough to swing momentum the Stars’ way.

Throw in a solid but unspectacular game from Anton Khudobin, and the prohibitive favorite Avalanche seem to be torn between looking for salvation from Nathan MacKinnon and blaming externalities for the two-game hole they find themselves in. Worse yet, the brilliance of Khudobin’s game wasn’t a matter of standing on his head. It was positional, squaring up to shots and forcing Colorado to search for perfect shots.

The Avalanche are riding MacKinnon and their top line hard. Combined, their top three took 18 shots on net. Colorado’s other nine forwards took 10. Early on, their power play looked dangerous, but by the second half of the game, the top unit devolved to passes around the outside, looking for MacKinnon to come free.

Even though the Avalanche’s game devolved after the Stars took the lead, it’s hard to not recognize that in grabbing a 2-0 lead, Colorado did what they said they were going to do. Each line drove play — as head coach Jared Bednar said, they stuck with the plan for Game 1, but executed it better.

While Colorado drove play, especially early on, the Stars allowed quantity, not quality shots.

One of the ways that the Avalanche create scoring chances is by generating speed out of the defensive zone, usually by quickly breaking an opponent’s forecheck and using cross-ice movement. The Stars have been effective at limiting speed out of the zone, and then forcing east-west action in the neutral zone. Much of Colorado’s possession game calls for clean zone entries, mainly in the middle of the ice. Dallas has forced entries along the board, and to a degree a bit of dump-and-chase.

There is growing disaffection in the Avalanche fanbase, much of which may sound familiar to Stars fans: blow up the top line and give the kids a chance being a particularly popular idea. For the moment, Bednar appears to be following old school hockey dictum, but hitching your horse to more of the same when you’re already down two games carries its own set of risks.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Roope Hintz (24) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Taylor Fedun (42)

Anton Khudobin (35)

Stephen Johns and Ben Bishop are still classified as “unfit to play.”

Colorado Avalanche Lineup

Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Andre Burakovsky (95) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Joonas Donskoi (72)
Tyson Jost (17) - J.T. Compher (37) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Matt Calvert (11) - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) - Matt Nieto (83)

Ryan Graves (27) - Cale Makar (8)
Samuel Girard (49) - Ian Cole (28)
Nikita Zadorov (16) - Kevin Connauton (7)

Pavel Francouz (39)

Matt Calvert is day-to-day. Philipp Grubauer and Erik Johnson are expected to miss the remainder of the Colorado playoff run, according to Bednar.

Keys to the Game

Resilience and grit. Colorado has demonstrated a penchant for setting picks and grabbing sticks in the first two games. Kadri has also had a few Corey Perry-esque moments, but the Avalanche appear to be missing Matt Calvert in this regard. The Stars haven’t been angels either, but have so far kept things mainly within the flow of the game. It’s a fine line between gamesmanship and dirty, but expect things to ratchet up closer to that line for Game 3.

MacKinnon. The Avalanche superstar can win a game through sheer effort. While that is possible, Colorado can’t afford to go stationary waiting for that to happen.

Mobile Defenders. Throughout the playoffs, Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg (and partners) have given the Stars a one-two offensive threat from the blue line. Cale Makar and Samuel Girard can do the same for the Avalanche, but have been kept in check for most of this series. Which dynamic duo will step up?