Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon have combined for 17 points in two consecutive Colorado Avalanche wins. They have attempted 35 shots. At times they’re skating so quickly, it appears they’re playing each shift a few seconds into the future – or maybe that’s just an indictment of the Minnesota Wild’s hapless defense against them.
So what do you do when one line is taking over a series?
Put your best defenseman against them? Ryan Suter’s time facing the MacKinnon line jumped from Game 1 to Game 2, and they ended up putting up 10 points. But hey, at least he didn’t have his ankles broken like Jared Spurgeon.
Put your best two-way forwards against them? Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise saw their minutes increase against the MacKinnon line in Game 2, and again, they got torched.
So Coach Mike Yeo returns to Minnesota for Game 3 with the last line change and a rather daunting task at hand: Stopping the two leading point scorers in the playoffs, and the two leading goal scorers in the playoffs.
The theory heading into Game 3? Matt Cooke to the rescue!
The game plan for shutting down MacKinnon and linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny likely will include Cooke, one of the few Wild players who's been on top of his game since the beginning of the series. That's what Cooke hopes anyway.
"I'm a third-line player for a reason," he said. "I feel like that's the best way I'm able to contribute is when my line is going out against a top line and being equal or a plus, then our team has a great chance of being successful."
Cooke can play the shutdown role with some edge, and the Avalanche’s top line hasn’t exactly been punched in the mouth yet. His linemate Erik Haula is one of the few Wild forwards that can compete with MacKinnon in a track meet, since speed has been a huge factor in his domination thus far. And while Nino Niederreiter has occupied the other forward spot on that line in Games 1 and 2, Michael Russo of the Star Tribune wonders if Justin Fontaine shouldn’t leave the press box for the ice to join the third line.
“We really started to back up, which really plays into their game,” Yeo said. “We’re all on our heels, and that gave them that opportunity to build that speed. … We’re giving them too much ice. We have to do a better job of making sure they’re coming through tight layers.”
Added Cooke: “We have to be quicker to take away time and space with those guys. They’ve proven with time and space they’re going to make plays.”
Here’s what the Wild need to do in Game 3: Channel their inner Lemaire.
There’s no reason why the Wild shouldn’t slow this thing to a crawl, shut down the lanes and double-down on defensive support for what’s to be Darcy Kuemper in goal. The Avalanche are playing with the enthusiasm of a middle schooler that just got their first kiss; the Wild need to be that sex-ed class about STDs that brings those hormones crashing down in a spiral of tedious despair.