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Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) takes a shot under pressure from Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) in the second period of Game 3 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series at T-Mobile Arena on Friday, June 4, 2021 in Las Vegas. (Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Erik_Verduzco
Vegas Golden Knights left wing Max Pacioretty (67) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) go for the puck in the third period of Game 3 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series at T-Mobile Arena on Friday, June 4, 2021 in Las Vegas. (Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Erik_Verduzco

DENVER — I’m not sure Pete DeBoer understands the water shortage facing Las Vegas, because when he said some doubters were jumping off a raft after his Golden Knights team went down 2-0 to Colorado in this best-of-seven series, you had to wonder what surface they were hitting.

Maybe he hasn’t seen those Ryan Reaves commercials in which the forward destroys some hapless guy before telling him to change a watering clock. Lake Mead, y’all. It’s shrinking.

I am sure about this: DeBoer and his team are flawlessly playing the underdog role.

Perhaps the Avalanche should try such a narrative.

Sportsbooks still favor Colorado to emerge victorious in this West Division final, but anyone who witnessed Games 3 and 4 at T-Mobile Arena might struggle buying such a forecast.

The Knights won 3-2 and 5-1, sending the series back to Denver tied 2-2.

Game 5 is Tuesday night. Colorado has some work to do.

Juggernaut at home

Its confidence will rightly stem from going 16-0-1 in the final 17 regular-season home games and being 4-0 in the playoffs at Ball Arena. Its doubt will stem from how the Knights have controlled play from the second period on of Game 2.

“I don’t know if mental toughness is the right (term),” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “But your mentality coming into the game and your approach from a mental standpoint is really important. We can talk about adjustments and this and that, but it’s pretty clear what they’re doing.”

And what Colorado isn’t.

The Knights are making life difficult on Colorado, and the Avalanche aren’t responding in kind. They’re getting beat up and down the ice time and again. It’s not like pickup basketball at the YMCA and nobody feels a need to get back on defense, but it’s close enough.

In the two losses, Bednar’s team couldn’t crack the structure of the Knights, who have been terrific at making a play in the defensive zone, throwing the puck out and attacking the neutral zone.

“They’re coming at us 100 miles per hour,” Bednar said. “All of their lines are executing really well. We have to start getting back above them. They’re coming every single time. We have to earn our ice and earn our space.”

They also have to discover a competent rush of their own.

Colorado needs a much cleaner transition game. It’s not challenging the Knights to defend as you would expect from such a fast and skilled side as the Avalanche. They’re having all sorts of trouble working through the neutral zone. They’re not causing much duress at all.

And when it does create chances, Colorado often isn’t forcing Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to make a save.

Example: The Avalanche missed the net on three walk-ins and hit the post on another attempt in the third period of Game 4.

Can’t lose focus

Things can change overnight. Colorado on Tuesday will be the beneficiary of a raucous crowd rather than its nemesis. Check out some of the other playoff series. Smart is not the team that becomes comfortable for even a shift or two.

“It’s a seven-game series,” Bednar said. “It’s not a best-of-four. I said it after Game 1 — it’s a race to four. It’s not a race two. We got two of the next three games in our building, where we have played real well. This is going to be a battle, and I fully expect our guys to take another step in this series. Our guys understand it’s going to be very difficult, but we can get it done.”

Of course they can. Just ask the Knights.

They will have no trouble telling you about the greatness of Colorado.

Playing that underdog role to perfection.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

This content was originally published here.