Jared Bednar on Nathan MacKinnon’s minutes: “If we’ve gotta play him 30, we’ll do it.”
On the bright side, Cale Makar will be fresh off three days of rest.
The Avs are battered and blistered and barely hanging onto life as the sweet release of a long offseason beckons. Nobody needs recharge time more than the superstars, whose usage has reached unprecedented heights. But Jared Bednar refuses to allow Nathan MacKinnon to leave the ice between shifts long enough for the season to flash before his eyes.
“Do we get to a point where he runs out of gas? Maybe,” Bednar said after the Avalanche’s Game 5 loss to the Kraken on Wednesday. “But we’re facing elimination, so if we’ve gotta play him 30, we’ll do it.”
MacKinnon’s 27 minutes and one second of ice time were all for naught in a 3-2 loss for a 3-2 series deficit against the Seattle Kraken. In the last 10 seasons, only three NHL forwards surpassed 27:00 in a regulation playoff game: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid in 2022, Toronto’s Mitch Marner in 2021 and Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier in 2018. (Two out of three resulted in wins.)
Like McDavid and Couturier, MacKinnon scored in Game 5. The Avalanche might need more goals and even more minutes from him Friday (8 p.m. MT) in Game 6.
MacKinnon, Makar and Mikko Rantanen have combined for nine of the team’s 14 goals in this series, which has turned out to be a microcosm of the Avalanche’s most feeble moments of the season. Depth disappears. Star power is the only hope.
“We didn’t have our A game or our B game tonight,” MacKinnon said. “I don’t know why. … I think we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot. I know it’s cliché to say, but I think there’s plays to be made out there, and we’re just not making them for whatever reason right now. It’s not a matter of work or competitiveness or anything like that.”
MacKinnon played 25 minutes in a regular-season game 13 times in the first nine years of his career. This season, his 10th, he doubled his career total with 13 more. Playoffs included, Game 5 was his fourth 27-minute game this season.
Bednar agreed that part of the conflict is simply lacking the depth he had last year.
“If guys are really going and on their game, then we don’t necessarily have to shorten our bench,” Bednar said. “But we’ve got some guys that aren’t getting a lot done. And you’re playing tight games and you’re playing from behind — you’re going to go with your horses. Didn’t look to me like Mac struggled with the ice time tonight. He’s feeling good.”
Other top players weren’t far behind. As the desperation increases, so does the disparity in ice time. Bo Byram played 26:38 and Toews added 25:14 to lead the blue line without a suspended Makar in the lineup.
J.T. Compher and Rantanen both topped 23:30, which is a lot for a forward, even if “MacKinnon playing 23 and change is nothing,” as Bednar said. At the other end of the lineup, Ben Meyers played 4:45.
“It’s not easy this time of year,” Toews said. “A lot of us battled this whole year to get to this point, and our season wasn’t easy with injuries and whatnot, so guys have had to play big minutes. Our top guys are what drive us.”
Makar returning for Game 6 in Seattle is also a fitting callback to earlier in the season.
In February, defenseman Josh Manson returned from a three-month lower-body injury while Makar was out with a concussion. Manson played one game. The next game, Makar returned while Manson took a night off, easing his way back. Makar got re-concussed in that game and missed the next five, all of which Manson played. Then Manson re-injured himself. Makar was back the next game.
The two good friends never overlapped in the lineup during that two-week back-and-forth.
And now? With Makar suspended, Manson kept playing rusty. By the third period, the big blueliner didn’t feel healthy enough to go back on the ice. He was dealing with a continuation of the same injury, Bednar said, and his Game 6 status is unknown. So maybe, once more, Manson will be out just as Makar is back in.
“Best player in the world — obviously he’s going to help us,” Toews insisted when asked about having Makar back for the elimination game.
It used to be, the more the Avs trailed, the more their best players were leaned on for comebacks. This series certainly hasn’t helped. The amount of game time Seattle has held a lead through five games is 149:13 to Colorado’s 37:55.
But at this point, the score doesn’t matter. Bednar will live or die with his best.
“We feel like we have the energy to do it,” Toews said, rejecting any claim that the Avs’ title defense has finally run out of gas. “Obviously it’s not easy with that short summer. But we earned that one, and now we’ve gotta go earn another one.”
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