NHL

Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues Game 3: Three keys to victory for Colorado

ST. LOUIS — The Avalanche enters Game 3 of its Western Conference semifinal series against the Blues with mixed feelings. Colorado played extremely well in Game 1’s 3-2 overtime victory but looked discombobulated in Game 2’s 4-1 defeat.

The Avs need to flush Game 2 and get back to their identity. Here are three keys for Game 3 on Saturday at Enterprise Center.

Zone exits. St. Louis had an improved forecheck in Game 2, often eliminating Avs defensemen from consistently moving the puck up ice. Colorado’s identity starts when its skilled defensemen gain possession and begin the counterattack. That was highly evident in Game 1 but more of a rarity in Game 2. Puck pressure is your play without the puck and the Blues were much more competitive in tying the series. They were first to most loose pucks and came out of corner battles with them. Speaking of competitive, the Avs need to up their game from the last one. They were highly competitive in Game 1 but seemed disinterested in playing at an elite pace in Game 2.

Limit BLTs. Blue-line turnovers are deadly. The Avs are experts at pouncing on optimal counterattacks when the opponent thinks it has offensive possession. But it was St. Louis that capitalized on Colorado’s offensive blue-line turnover that led to David Perron’s unassisted goal and the Blues’ 3-1 lead in Game 2. The Avs were turnover/offside-prone at both ends of the blue line in the second game. Top-pair defensemen Cale Makar and Devon Toews each forced offside by mishandling the puck on the offensive blue line, preventing an established attack to continue. If nothing else, Colorado needs to focus on dump-ins if there is no immediate passing play. Get the puck behind St. Louis’ defenseman and make the Blues work at taking it end to end.

Blocked shots. St. Louis had 17 in Game 2, and the Avs only five. A blocked shot is one that doesn’t get to the net. St. Louis’ first two goals were scored off deflections from Avalanche defensemen. First, Jordan Kyrou’s wrist shot skimmed off the stick of Sam Girard. And then Perron’s 5-on-3 power-play goal changed direction off the stick of Josh Manson. Goalies hate deflections. They track the puck off the shooters’ stick, not a deflection off a teammate. The Blues have been better at getting bodies in front of shots, not just sticks. Colorado needs to match that individual sacrifice. Blocking shots is a key ingredient to a long playoff run and the Avs need to prove they are willing to sacrifice.

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