Makar finds his way in Western Second Round for Avalanche against Blues

ST. LOUIS – When Cale Makar comes to play, odds are his opponent will pay the price.

That wasn’t the case during the opening two games of the Western Conference Second Round when the 23-year-old defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche found himself in an un-Makar-like state of mediocrity.

Makar had no points and was minus-2 while averaging 26:33 of ice time against the St. Louis Blues in a best-of-7 series that was 1-1. By his own admission, Makar, a finalist for the Norris Trophy given to the best defenseman in the NHL this season, said he was lacking some “juice.”

He also admitted that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, “you have to find a way.”

He did, like great players do, in Game 3 with one assist, three blocked shots, nine shot attempts and a plus-2 rating in 28:49 of ice time. a 5-2 win against the Blues on Saturday that gave the Avalanche a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4 is here Monday (9:30 pm ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t,” Makar said Sunday. “I mean, it’s playoff time, so it’s got to be able to happen every single night. But sometimes you just don’t have that jump in your legs and you got to find a way to get it back.”

[RELATED: Complete Avalanche vs. Blues series coverage]

The timing was impeccable when Colorado’s depth at defenseman was tested after the loss of Samuel Girard to a broken sternum 1:42 into the first period after he was checked hard behind his net by Blues forward Ivan Barbashev. Girard doesn’t need surgery but is out for the remainder of the playoffs.

“He wants to be a difference-maker every time he puts his skates on and that’s how he goes about his business,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “He understands how big of a role he plays and comes out and, in Game 3, has a great night. That’s what we’ve come to expect from Cale. It’s a deep desire to win and help our team win and to be the best you can be. “

Makar appeared to be floating on the ice at times, dazzling with the puck and setting up teammates for offensive success throughout. His one-timed pass-shot from the point deflected into the net by Nazem Kadri at the left post was a thing of beauty, giving Colorado a 2-1 lead at 13:38 of the second.

“Cale doesn’t need his legs,” Kadri said. “He’s got his head and he’s got his hands,” Kadri said. “Him skating at 50 percent is probably better than most. He’s such a mature kid for his age and it doesn’t matter if he’s feeling it or not, he’s going to get the job done. That’s just the kind of person he is. “

Makar leads defensemen in the playoffs with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) and has 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 42 NHL postseason games, tied with Adam Foote for third in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history at the position and one point behind Rob Blake (43 points; 16 goals, 27 assists in 68 games). Sandis Ozolinsh is first with 65 points (18 goals, 47 assists) in 82 games.

“His ability to defend top players, his physicality in his defending, has greatly improved since his rookie year and that’s made him a better offensive player,” Bednar said. “He’s more physical than what people give him credit for and he’s dialed into our structure.”

Makar has become more than just an offensive dynamo since winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year in 2019-20.

“I think my overall game in terms of evening it out around the ice has improved,” Makar said. “I feel it all starts with just being more committed in the defensive zone and it just stems from there. Once you’re able to do that, and you have the energy to go up in the offensive zone and start making plays … that’s the fun part. “

Makar was selected by the Avalanche with the No. 4 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft after Nico Hischier (No. 1, New Jersey Devils), Nolan Patrick (No. 2, Philadelphia Flyers) and Miro Heiskanen (No. 3, Dallas Stars). He leads his draft class in assists (132) and is first among defensemen with 180 points in 178 regular-season games.

“It’s his hands and how well he can pass and handle the puck at that speed that really caught your eye,” said John Williams of NHL Central Scouting. “He moved it with great vision and good lateral mobility, which is so important in today’s game. It wasn’t just straight-ahead speed but being able to create time and space in small areas … he did that exceptionally well.

“I don’t think anyone thought he would be doing what he’s doing but we thought he was very talented and had a chance to be a very good player. The Avalanche deserve a lot of credit too, because they put him in a position to succeed. “

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