The Colorado Avalanche must be better defensively to extend their season, but they’re going to have to do it without reinforcements.
Philipp Grubauer, Colorado’s No. 1 goalie going into the Western Conference Second Round, is still injured and will be unfit to play in Game 5 against the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Monday (9:45 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).
The same is true for defenseman Erik Johnson, and forwards Matt Calvert and Joonas Donskoi.
Dallas leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 after defeating the Avalanche 5-4 in Edmonton, the West hub city, on Sunday.
“They’re not ready,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the injured players. “They’re not an option for us. We’re not going to play injured players that can’t play. We have what we have. Injuries never help you and we have to find a way without them.”
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The Avalanche have had no answers for how to cool the red-hot Stars, who have scored 19 goals in the series and 26 in their past five games.
Worse yet for the Avalanche, the Stars are scoring in bunches, almost rapid-fire style, forcing them to play from behind often in the series.
Dallas scored three goals on nine shots, two on the power play, before the Avalanche even had a shot on goal in Game 4. The Stars scored two more, including another on the power play, in a span of 32 seconds in the third period to take a 5-2 lead.
“I say it all the time, catch-up hockey is losing hockey,” Bednar said.
The Stars scored three goals in a 6:05 span in the third period of Game 3, a 6-4 loss. They scored four goals in a stretch of 9:20 in the second period of Game 2, a 5-2 win. And Dallas scored three goals in 12:28 in the first period of Game 1, a 5-3 win.
“They’re very opportunistic; obviously some of that is on us,” Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon said. “When they get one, they get two or three right now, and we’ve got to limit that. The series isn’t over. We’re going to be ready for Game 5.”
Pavel Francouz has been in the Avalanche net for the last 15 goals against, having replaced an injured Grubauer in the second period of Game 1.
Francouz, though, was replaced by Michael Hutchinson after allowing the fifth goal in Game 4. Bednar wouldn’t confirm a starting goalie for Game 5.
“He’s got to be better for sure,” Bednar said of Francouz. “They’re making it hard on him, on the power play especially, but we’ve seen [Francouz] be way better. I don’t want to talk about tomorrow night’s goaltending yet. I’ve got to go back and look through this, but we’ve seen him be better. We know he can be better.”
Bednar said he believes the Avalanche can improve in front of the goalie too. It’s why he won’t make the team change its style to become more of a pack-it-in team. Instead, he’d like to see them become more of an aggressive defending team.
“We haven’t defended our best in this series, I’ve seen our team defend better,” Bednar said. “So, I would rely on that rather than just going into some shell that we’re not used to playing in. We’re a better and we defend better when we’re on our toes and getting after a team, making it hard on them with our quickness and our puck pressure all over the ice. We haven’t been at our best in this series and we’re going to have to be at our best to win the next game and so on down the line. I would put pressure on our team to be better than what we’ve been in some of the areas we’ve been stressing all year rather than looking at a totally different approach.”
Most importantly in the Avalanche’s quest to defend better is their discipline. They gave the Stars six power play opportunities in Game 4. Dallas scored on three, including going 2-for-2 in the first 10:45 of the first period.
“You can get away with a couple of them,” Bednar said. “You can’t get away with six.”
The Avalanche like their chances if the game is played more at even strength even though they’ve been outscored 14-12 in that situation, including one empty-net goal for both teams.
“We’re letting their big bodies stand in front of the net and tip pucks unharmed right now,” MacKinnon said. “I think we can win more battles, be more mean in our crease to help [the goalies] out. In terms of belief, we have no choice. We’re just trying to get Game 5, make it 3-2 and go from there. We can’t win three games in one game or one day. We’re going to take it step by step and get that W tomorrow.”