Cale Makar found the puck on an Avalanche rush and his wrister into the Stars’ net was equal parts redemption, bliss and hockey history.
Makar scored the go-ahead goal Wednesday midway through the second period in a 4-1 Colorado win to send their second-round series against Dallas to Game 7. It pushed Makar’s postseason points total to 15 (four goals) — the most ever by a rookie defenseman in the NHL playoffs.
“For these past two games, our mindset has changed,” Makar said. “We have a team that’s going to fight until the end.”
Makar stepped up when the Avs needed him most, unlike Sunday in Game 4, when the 21-year-old finally did something in line with his youth. Nearing seven minutes left in the third period, Makar let a silly turnover go behind his own net that led to a goal in the Stars’ 5-4 victory.
Makar, just for a moment, hung his head down toward the ice. His teammates never lost trust.
“We think Cale is the best defenseman in the league,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said Sunday. “We’re not worried about that turnover.”
Makar, one of three finalists for NHL Rookie of the Year, validated MacKinnon’s comments with an assist in the Avs’ Game 5 victory followed by his key goal on Wednesday night. Makar has also ratcheted up his physicality with veteran defenseman Erik Johnson out indefinitely.
Makar’s on-ice gifts — lightning quickness, spatial awareness and a devastating shot — are what likely keep opposing coaches up at night. But the rookie is already showing signs of elite physical toughness as well. His Game 4 gaffe is simply a thing of the past with another win-or-go-home scenario on tap Friday in Edmonton.
“I think he’s really mature for his age and his experience level in the league,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “He’s just a smart, intelligent player and he understands the game. One mistake isn’t going to define him. He has an easy time letting go of what he did the last shift or the last period. He just keeps looking forward and tries to make an impact.”
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