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2014 NHL Playoffs: Nathan MacKinnon lifts Avs to 2-0 series lead over Wild

Nathan MacKinnon has given Avs fans plenty to cheer about with seven points through two games. (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) Rookie Nathan MacKinnon has taken a liking to the playoffs in his first go-round. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Patrick Roy knows a bit about making a playoff impression at an early age.

The coach of the Colorado Avalanche was just 20 when he stepped between the pipes and led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1986.

But even he has to be amazed at what Nathan MacKinnon is doing to the Minnesota Wild.

The 18-year-old sensation followed up a three-point performance in Game 1 with a record-setting four-point encore to lead the Avs to a 4-2 win over the Wild on Saturday night. The victory gives Colorado a commanding 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series heads to Minnesota.

MacKinnon tied the game 6:20 into the first period with a goal that's bound to become a highlight reel staple -- a blazing burst of speed through the middle of the ice that broke Jared Spurgeon's ankles like a vicious crossover dribble before he made Ilya Bryzgalov look silly with a laser under the blocker.

The likely Calder Trophy winner finished the night by setting up linemates Gabriel Landeskog (twice) and Paul Stastny, each assist a special effort in its own right.

MacKinnon may be a kid, but right now he's too much man for the Wild to handle. Minnesota now faces the onerous task of winning four of the next five games. But before the Wild can do that, they'll have to figure out how to stop him.

Here are some observations on tonight's contest, as well as a look ahead to some changes for Game 3.

Game recap | Box score | Highlights

• As nifty as MacKinnon's goal was, his real highlight of the night came on the set-up for Landeskog's second goal. When Tyson Barrie's cross-ice pass through the neutral zone came too late, MacKinnon played the puck behind him, through his legs, off the wall and onto his forehand before finding Stastny open in the middle...and he did all that at top speed. "Datsyukian" is the word that comes to mind...

• Your stat of the night: MacKinnon's seven points through two games ties the NHL record first set by Odie Cleghorn in 1919 and later equaled by Barry Pederson in 1982.

• This was one of those nights where advanced stats failed to capture the essence of the game. MacKinnon's five-on-five Corsi rating was a middling 50 percent. Landeskog and Stastny were even worse, going 44.4 and 40 percent, respectively. Sometimes your eyes do a better job than the numbers...

Semyon Varlamov followed up a sketchy Game 1 with a solid rebound performance tonight. After allowing Charlie Coyle's no-chance opening goal -- the puck bounced in off the forward's leg as he crashed the crease -- he was locked in the rest of the night. He was especially tough down low, and did a nice job directing his rebounds out of harm's way. He ended up making 30 stops on the night (a .938 save percentage) including seven saves on three Minnesota power plays.

• Minnesota coach Mike Yeo after the game: "We've been able to shut down really good players all year long. We're backing up too much. We're allowing them to build speed." Ryan Suter said much the same thing: "We're skating backwards. You can't defend on your heels. We've been defending on our heels and it's just not good enough."

Both men are on the money here. Colorado's speed, especially on that top line, has them spooked. They're giving them too much respect, dropping back into a defensive posture too quickly instead of challenging them as they set up their zone exits. That buys the Avs space in the neutral zone which makes their speed even more effective. You have to believe Yeo's primary adjustment for Game 3 will revolve around a more aggressive posture aimed at disrupting Colorado's attack before it crosses the red line.

• Have we seen the last of Bryzgalov in action for the Wild? The iconoclastic keeper stopped just 11 of the 14 shots he faced, and while none of the three goals he allowed were soft exactly, he never looked to be in the zone, either. Darcy Kuemper replaced him after Landeskog's second goal at the 11:59 mark of the second and appeared comfortable and confident. More important, he stopped all 14 shots he faced, including a trio of premium chances from MacKinnon, P-A Parenteau and Max Talbot in the third that kept the game from getting out of hand. With a start in Game 3 all but guaranteed, this is his series now, win or lose.

• If the Wild are going to get back in this series, they'll need some help up front, too. Coyle was fantastic tonight (a game-high 70 percent Corsi), and Mikko Koivu was involved, but the secondary attack just wasn't there. Jason Pominville had three shots, but settled for long-distance bids. Matt Moulson couldn't find the dead space the way he usually does. Mikael Granlund...well, he's a shadow of his Sochi self. The Wild are doing a nice job possessing the puck (55.7 percent to 44.3 percent), but they're not doing the right things with it. That's a pattern Colorado has succeeded with all year long...and they'll continue to succeed as long as Minnesota settles for the low-value areas of the ice.

Marco Scandella's short-handed goal with 1:29 remaining was the result of a nice burst of speed from a player who has taken a lot of criticism in his career for his sub-par skating. He's one of those players who you might not see too often, but when you do you have to recognize the strides he's made in his game. He's turned himself into a very useful player for the Wild.
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