Tyler Bozak’s goal at 3:38 of overtime gave the St. Louis Blues a 5-4 comeback win over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 5 on Wednesday night, avoiding elimination in the Stanley Cup playoffs and forcing Game 6 back at home Friday night.
The Blues, who trail in the second-round series 3-2, rallied twice to stun the Avalanche, who were 56 seconds away from their first Western Conference finals appearance since 2002. Blues forward Robert Thomas scored to force overtime, where Bozak won it.
“Just a resilient group of guys. Got down. Didn’t want the season to be over. Fought hard and got some big goals late,” Bozak said.
Bozak scored his second goal of the playoffs on a long slap shot that beat goalie Darcy Kuemper (25 saves). The veteran center had just 7 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time in the game.
“I just got a little bounce up top and saw a lane to the net. In overtime, there’s definitely no such thing as a bad shot. Just tried to get it through on the traffic. All I know is that it went in, and that’s all that matters,” he said.
The Blues were down 3-0 in the second period and rallied to tie the game in the third. Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon scored an incredible end-to-end goal with 2:46 left in regulation to give the Avalanche the 4-3 lead, but the Blues still had some fight left in them.
“We battle back and then we give up that goal. It could have been deflating, but our guys have a lot of guts,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube said.
The arena was vibrating with excitement after the MacKinnon goal, but the Blues found another comeback, as Tarasenko’s shot bounced off Kuemper and was knocked in by Thomas for his second of the game to force overtime.
Thomas had two goals on the night after failing to score in the first 10 games of the playoffs.
“Better late than never, I guess,” he quipped.
The Avalanche lost despite a four-point night from MacKinnon that included his second career playoff hat trick.
“We’ve gotta move on and win Game 6 on the road,” MacKinnon said. “Hopefully everything happens for a reason. It should make our team a little harder, a little gritter. You can’t win every series in four and five [games]. We’re excited to have a huge challenge in St. Louis and try to close out a series.”
After scoring five goals in their opening-round sweep of the Nashville Predators, MacKinnon had yet to score a goal against the Blues in the second round. He corrected that with his first goal of the series just 3:51 into the game, taking a pass from Artturi Lehkonen and snapping a shot from the slot past Blues goalie Ville Husso (30 saves), playing his third game in place of injured starter Jordan Binnington.
He added a power-play goal at 18:23 of the first period on a shot in tight on Husso.
The Avalanche extended their lead to 3-0 as Gabriel Landeskog tipped home a shot from defenseman Devon Toews.
The Blues finally found some life courtesy of forward Vladimir Tarasenko, on a blast from the left circle to cut the deficit to 3-1 at 14:42 of the second period. They chipped away a little more at 9:57 of the third period, as Thomas finally found the back of the net, on a nifty setup from linemate Pavel Buchnevich.
“You’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well throw it all out there. That was the mindset,” Thomas said.
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk tied the game at 15:14 of the third period, jamming the puck past Kuemper on a scramble in front. Berube said that was a key in the comeback: getting to the Colorado net, after the Avalanche controlled play for most of the game.
“Guys battled and kept battling. That’s really what it boils down to. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, being down quick. I thought the second half of the second period we started to come with our game,” he said. “Getting to the goal line. Winning battles down there. We went north. That’s what it boils down to.”
But the battle back was almost all for naught thanks to MacKinnon’s majestic solo effort, completing his hat trick with one of the best goals of the playoffs. He sped through all three zones and beat defenseman Nick Leddy to shoot the puck past Husso.
It was the second straight game the Avalanche had a player tally a hat trick, after center Nazem Kadri scored three goals in their Game 4 win. This was Kadri’s first game back in Denver after his collision with Binnington, who suffered a series-ending injury on the play. Kadri, who is Muslim and of Lebanese descent, was the subject of racist comments and threats that required additional police presence at Colorado’s hotel and Enterprise Center in St. Louis for Game 4.
In Denver on Wednesday, fans carried signs that read “Stand With Naz” and plastered the glass with homemade signs in support of Kadri.
As the ice crew in Denver picked hats up off the ice following MacKinnon’s third goal, the Blues were determined to mount one more rally.
“Obviously, MacKinnon is one of the best players in the league and makes big plays in crucial moments. But we have great leadership on our team. Lots of guys that won before. We knew there was time,” Bozak said.
With Husso pulled, Thomas sent the game to overtime, where Bozak won it to force Game 6.
“They ramped up their desperation level. We didn’t get it done,” Landeskog said. “It’s playoff hockey. It’s not supposed to be easy.”