CENTENNIAL, Colo. – One player doesn’t make a team, but he can make other players better.
Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene proved that in Game 6 against the Wild on Monday night when he moved from the third line to the second. The puck movement was crisp and space opened for linemates Ryan O’Reilly and P.A. Parenteau.
The trio didn’t score together, but they created opportunities, something they hope bodes well for Wednesday’s Game 7.
“When we got paired back together it was nice. When he gets the puck, me and P.A. have that feeling we know what he’s going to do with it and it opens a lot of room out there,” O’Reilly said of Duchene. “We had a little bit of success last night, and hopefully going into Game 7 we’ll have more.”
Colorado considers itself a deep team, but in Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Wild it was apparent how much Duchene was missed earlier in the series. Duchene, the Avalanche’s leading scorer in the regular season with 23 goals and 47 assists, had not played since suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee on March 29. He made a difference right away Monday with an assist on Colorado’s first power-play goal in four games.
“On the first power play the duo of O’Reilly and Duchene clicked right away,” coach Patrick Roy said. “The second one, boom, the puck is in the net.”
Roy started Duchene on the third line with Max Talbot and Brad Malone, but when Colorado fell behind 2-0 in the first 10 minutes he moved him back into familiar territory. Duchene said it helped playing with his usual linemates again.
“I was happy when I got back with them because it was easier for me to read what was going on,” Duchene said. “Max and Malone are great players, but I haven’t played with them much so it’s tough to come into a Game 6 on the road and have two new linemates you’re trying to figure out. Once I got back with ‘Factor’ and P.A., it was instant chemistry again and we picked up where we left off.”
Duchene said his knee was fine after logging 18:52 of ice time and that it would take a “pretty big hit” to hurt it again. He did admit he was rusty and jumping into a playoff series this late was tough. He is relying on his experience with Team Canada in the Sochi Olympics two months ago for Wednesday.
“My playoffs are just starting and we’re already at a Game 7. I draw on my Olympic experience at this point,” he said. “You play two Game 7s there against U.S. and Sweden. It’s not unchartered territory, but it’s a challenge with an injury like this.”
Talbot is a grinder, but he might be the most important guy for Colorado leading into Wednesday’s game. The third-line forward has the most Game 7 experience on the team, playing in four with Pittsburgh. He was the hero of the Penguins upset of Detroit in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final when he scored both goals in a 2-1 Pittsburgh victory.
“It was never about what I did,” Talbot said. “I was lucky enough to perform, but what I remember is I was having fun, I was focused and I wanted to make a difference.”
His success has his young teammates looking to him for some insight for Wednesday’s game.
“It’s nice talking to guys like Max who’ve been there,” rookie Nathan MacKinnon said. “The biggest message they told me was it’s the same game, but the stakes are higher. It’s important to enjoy it, embrace it and have some fun with it and relax out there.”