SAN JOSE, Calif. - Colorado came to a crashing, crushing, controversial, cheerless conclusion Wednesday night.
Heart-pounding turned into heartbreaking for the audacious Avalanche in Game 7 against the Sharks.
“We’re tired of saying ‘Next year, next year, next year, and we speeded up the process, especially at the end of the (regular) season and in the playoffs," Gabriel Landeskog said. "But this organization should be among the top (ranks) every year, and this will motivate us all to get there.’’
Landeskog giveth, and he taketh away.
In the sixth game of the series with the Sharks, the Avalanche captain scored the winning goal in overtime. In the final game, Landeskog was charged, after a replay review challenge, with offsides as he was attempting to get off the ice on a change. The provocative delayed penalty negated a tying goal by Colin Wilson in the second period and gave the Sharks and their followers a tremendous elevation at sea level.
“I didn’t even know what was going on,’’ Landeskog said afterward. “I was waiting for the puck to drop (after the goal), play was held up. I thought they were looking at the goal. Then I found out they were looking at offsides.
“I haven’t seen the play, but I guess I could have done 10 different things on the play. I could have gotten off the ice faster or jumped over the boards. They said I had one foot on the blue line.
“It’s a hard lesson learned.’’
The linesman didn’t make an offsides call as the Avalanche play was developing on the other side of the ice at the blue line. Wilson scored to make it 2-2 as the Avs had apparently recovered from an early 2-0 deficit in the first period after Nate MacKinnon injured his right shoulder.
MacKinnon, who wasn’t hit, crashed into the board. “I hurt my shoulder pretty bad on the first shift,’’ he said in the locker room. The trainers “brought me back here and shot me up. I couldn’t feel anything after that and went back in’’ with four minutes remaining in the period.
The Sharks started the game fire on ice with the Avalanche, especially after MacKinnon departed, cold, timid and tentative.
Meanwhile, Sharks center Joe Pavelski, who hadn’t played a minute previously in the series, scored the game’s first goal and assisted on the second. In the last game of the series with the Golden Knights, the side of Pavelski’s head was slammed into the ice, and he bled profusely and obviously was concussed. Eight staples later, he was sidelined until Wednesday night.
Landeskog admitted the Avs were rocked after MacKinnon's lengthy absence. “It’s tough to lose your best player, but no way should we have given up two goals like that.’’
MacKinnon felt the Avalanche “played the last 40 minutes great, and we had plenty of chances. We just couldn’t pull it out.’’
Down 2-0 with time evaporating in the first period, the Avs scored, and, suddenly, the crowd at the Shark Tank was subdued during the intermission. Everyone was tense and taut when Wilson scored for the tie.
But the goal was waved off in the league replay headquarters in Toronto because coach Peter DeBoer demanded a challenge. Someone on the bench believed Landeskog hadn’t gotten off the ice, had one foot in the air and the other on the blue line, creating an offside penalty. “It came down to frozen frames,’’ Landeskog said.
The rule is both specific and sketchy.
Way back in October at the beginning of the season the Avs tied the Blues with 2½ minutes left, but St. Louis coach Mike Yeo challenged, and, after the replay review, the Avalanche goal was canceled. As a result, the NHL apologized to the Avs and changed the offensive challenge rule.
An NHL official at Wednesday’s game, who asked to be anonymous, told me: "You could make that (offsides) call a dozen times a game, or call too many men on the ice every shift change. Landeskog was way out of the play, but he also should have done more (to prevent the call)."
The Avalanche are dissatisfied and despondent with how the postseason ended.
“Two more goals, and we would have been in the conference finals,’’ MacKinnon said.
For want of a goal or two, the kingdom is lost.
But the Avs are through, the captain proclaimed, with baby steps, and they’re ready to take the giant leap.
This game, though, will leave a permanent mark.