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Avs cough up 2-0 lead, on the brink of elimination after OT loss

The Avalanche looked like a new team after dropping a pair of games in Las Vegas and losing their 2-0 early series lead, playing physical hockey and generally dominating play for the first two periods. But in a game that mirrored the series at large, the third period saw the Avalanche cough up the puck twice in the first four minutes — a stick-handling mistake along the boards by Andre Burakovsky and an ill-advised, cross-ice pass attempt by team captain Gabriel Landeskog — and both mistakes immediately ended up in Colorado’s net, courtesy of Alex Tuch and Jonathan Marchessault.

Suddenly, the Avalanche were reeling as the Golden Knights turned up the pressure, holding the Avs to only one shot in the first 10 minutes of the third period. Colorado wouldn’t score again, as the game’s mere 50-second overtime period ended with another Avalanche mistake buried behind goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Ryan Graves floated a shot from the blue line into the usual traffic that Vegas stacks up in the middle of the ice, and the blocked shot — the Golden Knights’ 26th on the night — was picked up by Vegas’ Mark Stone, who finished off both the partial breakaway and the Avalanche’s chances.

“I loved the way we played tonight, I loved it. I thought we were the aggressors, we were on our toes, we were playing to win the hockey game, we played to our identity,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “The three goals they got — even in the third period, I had no problems with it — except for the turnovers. I don’t think we had a lot of turnovers (11 to Vegas’ five) tonight, but we had three and they all led to their goals against. They were all turnovers.”

The Avalanche, now down 3-2 in the series and headed back to raucous Las Vegas, have been almost completely figured out by head coach Pete DeBoer and his Golden Knights. Colorado’s skill and speed are being used against them, as Vegas clogs passing lanes and puts sticks on the ice, knowing that the Avalanche would rather pass the puck in an effort to find a wide-open net rather than pressing the action against goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who looked vulnerable all night long in Game 5.

“Go do it again — and eliminate a couple of those plays. I told them that is exactly how you have to play in order to win against Vegas, and you’ve got to do it again,” Bednar said. “We’ll look again to see if we can find something else to help our guys, but to me, I liked our attack mentality. I thought we defended hard. We did a lot of good things, a lot of good things, and we’ve just got to be smarter with the puck in a couple areas. Again, that’s what ended up costing us tonight.”

There are no more opportunities to adjust, no “next game” left for the Avalanche, who now run the risk of squandering not only this series, but their best opportunity to claim the Stanley Cup in 20 years.

“We don’t have much time to do anything but rebound,” Landeskog said. “We’ve got to go into Vegas and win a hockey game. It’s as simple as that.”

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NEXT UP: Game 6, Avalanche at Golden Knights (Golden Knights lead, 3-2) | Thursday, Jun. 10 at 7:00 p.m. | TV: NBCSN

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NOTES

• Head coach Jared Bednar shuffled all four forward lines on Tuesday, which seemed to pay off when Brandon Saad — on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen — scored the game’s first goal in the final second of the first period. Alex Newhook, back in the lineup after being scratched for both games in Vegas, had a slick assist to fellow fourth-liner Joonas Donskoi, who one-timed it into the Golden Knights’ net for the Avs’ 2-0 lead. “I loved our lines tonight. I thought they were great. Getting back to the way we have to play to have success. I thought it was a really good hockey game by our team, besides a couple plays that ended up in the back of our net.”

• Logan O’Connor returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury on March 31, and had an immediate impact on the third line, adding physicality with seven hits and registering three shots in Tuesday’s Game 5 loss. “This guy’s a worker; he’s had to earn everything he’s gotten as a professional hockey player,” head coach Jared Bednar prior to the game. “One thing he’s never going to cheat you on is his commitment and his work.”

• Nazem Kadri’s eight-game suspension was upheld by a neutral arbitrator on Tuesday. Kadri, who earned his third career playoff suspension by delivering a “high, forceful check” on Blues defenseman Justin Faulk’s head, has been sorely missed by the Avalanche in their last three games, all losses. Against a Vegas team that prevents the Avs’ preferred, tape-to-tape passing style, Kadri’s aggressive, net-crashing approach has been exactly what the Avalanche have needed, not to mention his ability as a forechecker; both skills that no other Colorado player can duplicate. Though he can return in a potential Game 7, Kadri’s thoughtless hit will keep him out of Game 6 in Vegas, which the Avalanche must win to keep their season alive.

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THE FINAL WORD

“Obviously, it’s a tough building, but this is the playoffs, and now we lost one at home — and we’ve got to go on the road and win one.” — Gabriel Landeskog, on a must-win Game 6 in Las Vegas Thursday.

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LAST NIGHT’S LINES

FORWARDS
Top Line: LW Brandon Saad, C Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen
Second Line: LW Gabriel Landeskog, C J.T. Compher, RW Valeri Nichushkin
Third Line: LW Andre Burakovsky, C Tyson Jost, RW Logan O’Connor
Fourth Line: LW Alex Newhook, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, RW Joonas Donskoi

DEFENSEMEN
Top Pair: LD Devon Toews, RD Cale Makar
Second Pair: LD Samuel Girard, RD Ryan Graves
Third Pair: LD Patrik Nemeth, RD Conor Timmins

GOALTENDER
Starter: Philipp Grubauer

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INJURY WATCH

• Bowen Byram (upper-body injury) has been out since March 24, but is “an option whenever we want to use him,” according to head coach Jared Bednar on May 19.
• Matt Calvert (upper-body injury) missed the Mar. 31 game and was placed on the injured reserve list on Apr. 11.
• Dennis Gilbert (facial injury, COVID-19 protocol) was placed on injured reserve on Feb. 20. He is expected to be out until at least late March.
• Erik Johnson (upper-body injury) left the Jan. 30 game and has no projected return date. On March 25, coach Jared Bednar suggested that it was possible that Johnson could miss the remainder of the season.
• Pavel Francouz (hip) has yet to play this season and remains on injured reserve. On Apr. 12, the Avalanche ruled him out for the rest of the season following hip surgery.

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Shawn Drotar is the host of “The Fan Late Night with Shawn Drotar;” weeknights from 10:00 p.m. to midnight — only on 104.3 The Fan