It’s not only a game of inches, but a game of heartbreak in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard learned that in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals Saturday night. With the score knotted up at 2 with just over seven minutes to play between the Oilers and Avalanche, Bouchard’s shot from the slot beat netminder Pavel Francouz, but failed to beat the post. With Edmonton’s power play up almost simultaneously as Bouchard found iron, he quickly found himself digging it out of his own net.
Avalanche forward J.T. Compher was racing out of the box and beat Bouchard to the loose puck, before trickling one in through the five-hole of goaltender Mike Smith, to give Colorado a 3-2 advantage. It was the game-winning goal for the Avalanche, who defeated the Oilers, 4-2, and now hold a commanding 3-0 series lead.
“The margin of error this time of the year is really slim and we’re finding that out firsthand,” Oilers forward Evander Kane said after the game.
There have been only four teams to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Edmonton will have to be the fifth in order to make its first Stanley Cup appearance since 2006. The Kings were the last team to do it, coming back from 3-0 down in 2014 to defeat the Sharks in the First Round of the Western Conference.
For Compher, his fifth goal in his past four games, after scoring zero in his first nine during the playoffs. Compher’s contribution was much needed, as the stars were relatively quiet for Colorado and the power play went 0-for-5.
The Avalanche were dealt a blow early, after Center Nazem Kadri left the game after just 1:05 of play in the first period and didn’t return. Kadri was hit from behind by Kane, sending Kadri into the boards headfirst. Kane was given a five-minute major for boarding, but did not receive any additional misconduct penalties.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said after the game that Kadri is out for the series and called the hit “the most dangerous play in hockey.”
The hit came just seconds after Oilers forward Connor McDavid scored 38 seconds into the game to give Edmonton the jump they needed. It was McDavid’s ninth goal and 30th point of the playoffs, the latter leading all skaters.
Colorado would answer with two goals of its own, both credited to forward Valeri Nichushkin. While the first required some puck luck, after his shot from the right of Smith was deflected in off the stick of Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, the second was an example of putting yourself in the right position.
After a shot from the point from defenseman Devon Toews was blocked in front, the puck found its way to the stick of Nichushkin, who buried it past Smith to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead 4:37 into the second period.
The Avalanche are now 6-0 during this postseason on the road and will look to make it seven in a row Monday at 8:00 p.m. ET on TNT. The Avalanche will look to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.