Avs recover to force Game 7, cite frustration

DENVER -- Desperation is typically the emotional fuel for a team facing elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

While the Colorado Avalanche certainly burned through their share of it during their Game 6 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday, the highest octane available in forcing a Game 7 was pure frustration.

Witness J.T. Compher.

Or, more to the point, witness the trash can back at the Shark Tank in San Jose that Compher bludgeoned with his stick after their Game 5 loss on Saturday night. The sound of his lumber denting the metal receptacle was so loud that it startled arena workers, and it echoed the frustration he and the Avalanche had after that defeat.

In Game 6, that frustration fueled what coach Jared Bednar said was the best game Compher's played in the postseason: two goals and an assist on Tyson Jost's opening goal, the kind of performance from their supporting cast that the Avalanche have sought all series.

"I think I felt good right away. Was able to play physically right away. It's always fun playing with this group. We believe we have what it takes," Compher said.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog said whatever line Compher was on in Game 6 was a difference-maker all game.

"It's deflating to take the lead and then give it up three times. But they [were] just coming and coming. And even when they weren't scoring, they were creating chances," Landeskog said.

Their effort helped to send this game back to San Jose.

Has he thought about that poor trash can since the incident?

"No. I don't care. It's not anything I've put any thought into," Compher said. "We're going to a Game 7. It's a huge opportunity for this team, not only for the future but for the present."

Witness Landeskog.

The Avalanche star has been his own harshest critic. He had been held scoreless in four of five games against San Jose after scoring in four straight games against Calgary in Colorado's opening-round win. Those frustrations continued in Game 6 and included the defensive end of the ice: Landeskog was on for all three of the Sharks goals that tied the game thrice.

The apex of that frustration: San Jose's fluky goal with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left in regulation, as Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shot was deflected into the net by Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov's skate. As the Sharks began to celebrate, a stumbling Timo Meier fell into Landeskog, knocking him to the ice. He got up and landed a cross-check to Meier that probably would have earned a penalty were it not the waning moments of a tied Game 6 in the playoffs.

In the intermission before overtime, Landeskog walked over to goalie Philipp Grubauer, acknowledging that his line was responsible for the tied game. Grubauer recalled Landeskog vowing that he'd scored a goal in overtime as penance.

"And he got one," said the goalie.

Landeskog started the play with a wicked forecheck on Erik Karlsson, knocking his helmet off. The Sharks' clearing attempt was intercepted by rookie defenseman Cale Makar, who snapped a pass that connected with Landeskog's stick blade. With Karlsson on him, the puck bounced ahead and Landeskog knocked it past Martin Jones for the first overtime playoff goal of his career.

The frustration, for a moment, had subsided.

"I haven't been happy with my offensive output this time of year. I haven't been dangerous enough. I haven't been a threat enough. It was nice to get this one tonight and hopefully we can build off of it," Landeskog said. "You just have to instill that doubt on the other side. And I doubt the last thing they wanted to do was play another one at home in San Jose."

Bednar said the determination of players like Compher and Landeskog personified their effort in Game 6, and how the Avalanche as a team pushed through their frustrations.

"It can be tough out there. It's tight checking. Not a lot of room to move. The officials are letting both teams play. There's a little bit more clutch and grab, hitting and hooking, holding ... all the things you'd expect. You have to fight through it. And that's what made me proud about my team tonight," he said.

This is the first Game 7 for the Avalanche since 2014, as they attempt to qualify for the Western Conference final for the first time since 2002. That year they were second overall in the conference and winners of their division. This season, they were eighth in the West and fifth in the Central Division.

"You want to give it the credit it deserves as a Game 7. But you don't want to blow it out of proportion, and all of a sudden if becomes this big monster. This big mountain we have to climb," Landeskog said.

"But it's a huge step for our team. We're 60 minutes away from the Western Conference final. Who would have thought before the series? Whoever thought before the season?"