NHL

Nathan MacKinnon resumes playmaking role as Avalanche drops Sharks for second straight win – The Denver Post

Nathan MacKinnon, a fighter on Friday night, turned back into the electrifying elite playmaker Saturday as the Avalanche concluded a consecutive-night stretch against the San Jose Sharks at Ball Arena.

MacKinnon fueled a relentless attack on Sharks rookie goalie Josef Korenar, who had a shutout midway through the game before MacKinnon broke through for his 20th goal of the season to get the Avs rolling.

MacKinnon, who had a game-high nine shots, added a third-period assist and Colorado went on to defeat the Sharks 4-3.

MacKinnon’s line combined for 23 shots, with Gabe Landeskog contributing eight and Mikko Rantanen six.

“Mac, he’s just executing. Some of the things we gave him in the game plan, he understood it real well and made some things happen,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “It was just smart execution, understanding that this would be option A, if it’s not there look for option B or C, and (the linemates) were able to process that at a high rate of play.”

San Jose dug itself out of 3-1 and 4-2 deficits, closing within a goal twice on goals from Logan Couture (shorthanded) and Tomas Hertl (6-on-5 attack). But the Avs held on in front of goalie Devan Dubnyk (22 saves), who won in his first appearance with the club in Denver.

“I thought we were more dangerous on the offensive side of things tonight than last game,” Bednar said. “More jump, better shot mentality, a little bit better net presence too. I thought their goalie played really well, actually to keep them in the game for a while.”

Avs winger Andre Burakovsky scored 2:58 after MacKinnon in the second period and Rantanen and defensemen Patrik Nemeth had third-period goals for the Avs. MacKinnon, Rantanen and rookie defenseman Conor Timmins (two assists) each had two points, and Timmins was a team-best plus-3.

“Just been more sure of myself on the ice,” said Timmins, 22. “I’ve been simplifying my game, trying to make clean exits and I think that’s kind of led to my offense. Everything stems from that. So it’s just a matter of simplifying for me.”

MacKinnon saw two NHL-leading streaks end Friday. He failed to produce a point for the first time in 16 games and he didn’t produce a shot for the first time in 264 games. But Saturday, he had the game-tying goal and eight shots after the second period.

Colorado, which outshot the Sharks 44-25, improved to 14-0-1 in its last 15 games at Ball Arena.

The Avs played without two key defensemen in Ryan Graves and Sam Girard, both injured in Friday’s 3-0 victory over the Sharks. Graves left early in the first period after taking a questionable hit from Sharks forward Evander Kane. Girard left midway through the third period after colliding into the end boards while retrieving the puck after a linesman waved-off icing.

Replay showed Girard was shoved from behind into the boards by San Jose forward Kevin Labanc, who had to answer to MacKinnon. The Avs center picked a fight with Labanc and got the additional minor for roughing.

“No. 1, obviously, somebody has to answer the bell. Nate was there and he did that,” Avs defenseman Cale Makar said. “I think it just goes to show the commitment that we have to each other on this team. Nate stepped in and got the job done for us.”

The Avalanche is in the midst of playing the Sharks four consecutive times. The “series” moves to San Jose for games Monday and Wednesday to begin Colorado’s five-game road trip. The Avs, who have just seven remaining games, play twice at the Los Angeles Kings before concluding the trip on May 10 at the Vegas Golden Knights in what could determine the West Division champion.

Colorado is scheduled to complete the regular season with a two-game set at home against the Kings on May 12-13

Footnote. Avs center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare played in his 500th career NHL game. He became the second native of France to reaching the milestone, joining Antoine Roussel.

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