It was the calm before another forecasted storm that could again suffocate the Calgary Flames.
Tuesday around noon, less than 12 hours after producing a record-tying 56 shots in a 6-2 rout over the Flames in Game 3 of its first-round playoff series at the Pepsi Center, the Avalanche had just five seldom-used skaters and backup goalie Semyon Varlamov participating in an optional practice.
The Avs’ top players didn’t need to practice. The coaching staff didn’t need to perform on-ice instruction. Everything felt at peace.
And forward Matt Nieto — who scored shorthanded goals in Games 2 and 3 to become the first NHLer to do so in consecutive playoff games since Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot in 2012 — didn’t feel like he needed to practice his penalty-killing skills.
“We’re really confident. We’ve been confident from the start. We think we can come out of this series (winners),” the soft-spoken Nieto said during his off-ice workout.
The Avs, who have taken a 2-1 series lead with an impressive display of excellence in all areas of the ice in Games 2 and 3, just want to keep the good times rolling in Wednesday’s Game 4. They want to continue to generate 80-some shot attempts like they did in each of the last two games, continue to ride the sharp-shooting of Nathan MacKinnon, get a third shorthanded goal from Nieto and continue to limit Calgary’s top line to next-to-nothing offensively.
And Flames goalie Mike Smith? The Avs would like to continue to prove they own the netminder advantage with Philipp Grubauer.
“We know we’re going to create chances. We just have to bear down like we did (Monday),” said Avs right winger Mikko Rantanen, who had the game-winning assist in overtime to beat the Flames in Game 2.
The Avalanche’s 56 shots in Game 3 was the club’s most since producing 56 on June 10, 1995, when it defeated the Florida Panthers in three overtimes to win the Stanley Cup. And the Avs’ six goals Monday were their most in a playoff game since scoring eight on May 4, 2002, against the San Jose Sharks.
Colorado is playing like its 1999 — and the five years before and after when it won two Stanley Cups and made the playoffs for 10 consecutive years.
The Avs have outshot Calgary 95-66 in the last two games by limiting their turnovers in the defensive end/middle of the ice and maintaining offensive possession and creating multiple chances on Smith during the same shift. For the most part, they’re taking away the Flames’ counter-attack, forcing Calgary to go end to end to establish an attack.
With his shorthanded goals, Nieto has outscored Calgary entire top line of center Sean Monahan and wingers Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm in the series.
“Lindholm, Monahan and Gaudreau, for them, has been the driving force all year,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “(But) if we keep playing the way we’re playing and try to repeat our performance and keep skating the way we’re skating, then we have multiple options for matchups with their club.”
Footnotes. Avalanche rookie defenseman Cale Makar was not made available to reporters Tuesday, following his impressive NHL debut in Game 3. Makar, 20, who joined the Avs for Monday’s morning skate, was settling into the city with the help of his parents. … Avs forward Derick Brassard missed Game 3 with an illness but is a candidate to play Wednesday, Bednar said.
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