September 27, 2022

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Paul Klee: Avs need a MacKinnon main course, with a side of Frankie | Avalanche

4 min read

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Paging, Nate the Great.

Your moment is boarding.

After a Stanley Cup Final Game 3 only the oddsmakers saw coming, the Avalanche need their star forward to come up big. The Lightning rolled 6-2 on Monday night at Amalie Arena.

The Avs hold a 2-1 series lead. The easy out here is saying Pavel Francouz must start in goal in place of Darcy Kuemper when the puck drops Wednesday in Game 4 Tampa. Obviously.

This blowout loss should not be placed on Kuemper’s shoulders, but it’s time for Frankie.

How will the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup Final series end?

“He (Kuemper) didn’t have a good night,” coach Jared Bednar said. “Neither did our team.”

The Lightning were all kinds of awesome in their eighth-straight win at home. Props to Tampa. And two days after the Avs set records in a 7-0 win, the Lightning showed why sports betting is a bad idea and usually a losing exercise: Vegas had the Avs as underdogs, a first this postseason. Good call, Vegas.

Is it time for Avs fans to punch the panic button? Not yet. The Avs controlled play in the final period, backup goalie Pavel Francouz allowed only one goal in 25 minutes of work, the Avs outshot the Lightning 39-32, the sun will come up today. Tampa still must win three of four.

But the winning team in this series has averaged five-plus goals per game. Scoring’s fun, and scoring a bunch is necessary. You know who hasn’t scored in this playoff series? The best and most dangerous player in this playoff series. What’s good, Nathan MacKinnon?

“We were not expecting a sweep,” he said after, according to The Gazette’s George Stoia.

Aside from not $5 gas, you know what would be nice? One of those MacKinnon onslaughts that makes you wonder if the other team is skating uphill. You could see the engine revving up in the third period when MacKinnon unloaded a laser job that fortunately didn’t hurt anybody. He led the Avs with six shots on goal and did not record a point. (Eleven Avs had a point in the Game 2 rout.) But MacKinnon is in a semi-drought, no doubt. He’s played in a bunch of playoff games, 67, and only had two other stretches where he’s had one goal over five playoff games. MacKinnon’s résumé is expanding by the day but still does not include a goal in the Stanley Cup Final. If MacKinnon scores twice on Wednesday in Game 4, the Avs will win the game. Book it.

Plus, a blazing finish to the Cup final would further justify the most lucrative NHL contract that’s coming MacKinnon’s way. At present he’s the 94th-best paid player in the league, the best bargain in professional sports. Colorado will celebrate when MacKinnon is No. 1.

Tampa is trying to be the sixth team to recover from an 0-2 deficit and win a Stanley Cup Final.

By the way, Florida folks could get into the game at puck drop for $300 on Ticketmaster. The “same” seats for Game 2 in Colorado went for $800-plus. Yes, Tampa has been here the past three years, Colorado not in 21 years. But come on. First you take the games off normal-person cable TV, then you price out most families when times are tough as it is? That’s rough on fans.

The Avs losing in the playoffs is a shock to the system. They’re now 14-3. The 1996 Avalanche who won the Cup went 16-6 in the playoffs. The 2001 Avalanche went 16-7. The Lightning reached out and took Game 3 more than the Avalanche fumbled it away and lost.

Yes, the Avs have a full-fledged goalie controversy in the middle of a Cup final. Not ideal. But if Bednar starts Francouz over Kuemper he solves one minor issue that’s bugging the Avs.

Kumper’s last six starts: 18 goals allowed, 120 saves, 4-2 record.

Francouz: 15 goals allowed, 145 saves, 6-0 record. He allowed one goal in backup duty Monday.

It’s Frankie time.

The best part of the Avalanche getting their clock cleaned was Logan O’Connor starting and finishing a fight in a Cup final. That’s how a DU Pioneer does it. LOC earned his ice time.

And it’s not like MacKinnon is running from the fight. It’s the opposite, actually. The 26-year-old (still weird he’s that young) reached 80 playoff points faster than all but four players, and their names are Gretzky, Lemieux, Kurri and Crosby. The Avs need that MacKinnon, the finisher.

Here’s the winning formula: “Frankie” in goal, two goals from Nate. The rest will follow. That’ll do.

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