The Dallas Stars have veteran playoff performers throughout their lineup, and with the exception of 33-year-old goalie Ben Bishop, all of them are relatively healthy and played against the Avalanche in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series in Edmonton.
The Avs also have a solid core of veterans with playoff experience, but four of their biggest pieces are injured and didn’t play Wednesday. Goalie Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Erik Johnson both went down in Game 1 and remain out indefinitely, and forward Matt Calvert, who has yet to play in the series, is day-to-day but was ruled out for Game 3.
Former University of Denver standout Logan O’Connor also stepped in for Joonas Donskoi, who was a late scratch. O’Connor, who is from Calgary, made his NHL playoff debut.
With Johnson and Calvert, the Avalanche was missing two sandpaper-type players who are uniquely built for this stage — who thrive in this kind of environment where blocking a shot with your chest can be as important as scoring a goal. They are the guys sending positive messages to teammates on the ice and in the dressing room.
Calvert’s absence mirrors how the Avs missed him in the 2019 playoffs, when he couldn’t play in the last four games of a conference semifinal series against San Jose. The Sharks advanced with a victory in Game 7, and afterward, Colorado players and staff noted how badly they missed Calvert.
“Injuries happen, and believe me, I’ll be the first one to say how big Calvy is to our group, and how important he is, but at the end of the day we can’t change that right now,” Avs captain Gabe Landeskog said after Wednesday’s morning skate at Rogers Place. “We have to focus on the task at hand. It’s the same thing for EJ and Gruby and anybody else that has missed time over the course of the season or the playoffs. They’re all important cogs in this wheel, but for us, we have to focus on the task at hand.”
Like Calvert, Johnson is feeling something familiar that resembles torture. He missed the entire 2018 first-round playoff series against Nashville due to an injury that occurred late in the regular season.
Calvert and Johnson were not made available to media because they aren’t cleared to play. They remain in the Edmonton bubble and are receiving treatment, along with Grubauer.
Avs coach Jared Bednar, in his mid-day news conference, said his staff has tweaked its lines for Game 3 after getting virtually no offensive production outside the top line in the first two games. But the top line started the game intact (Landeskog with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen) and second-line center Nazem Kadri was again with Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin.
Bednar and his players said the first step in having a successful Game 3 is to forget about what happened in the first two games.
“Unfortunately, we’re down in this series right now, but with that said, those first two games don’t matter (anymore),” Avs winger Matt Nieto said. “All that matters is the game tonight. Our group has a high belief system and we’re excited to go tonight. It’s a big game for us and we’re going to come out flying.”
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