A boring first half of this Saturday contest between the Colorado avalanche and Dallas Stars completely flipped on its head in the second half, when five goals and three lead changes occurred within less than a single period.
Those three goals and two lead changes came in the final five minutes alone - but once the snow flurries settled, the Avalanche found themselves the 3-2 winners over their Central Division rivals.
Mikko Rantanen was the hero for the Avalanche yet again, assisting on the first goal and scoring the game-winning tally for the Avalanche with only 1:56 left to go in regulation. With those two points, he extended his NHL lead in points over his teammate Nathan MacKinnon with his 37th and 38th points in only 23 games. The goal also put Rantanen square with Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point for fourth in the league’s Rocket Richard race.
Semyon Varlamov was also huge for his team in the starters net. The Avalanche may have outshot their opponents 36-28 in the game, but Varly had to stop 27 tough shots for the win. He kept his team ahead or close enough to strike back many many times, especially in the third period when the Stars really turned up the heat with their deadly first line.
The opening frame was fairly entertaining, despite the lack of goals.
The fans got to see some 4-on-4 action after Gabe Landeskog and Alex Radulov each took a penalty within seconds of each other. Rantanen was buzzing once the ice opened up; he even drove across the face of the goal MacKinnon style and stuffed the puck into the far side, but was poke-checked.
As Landeskog was released from the box after his two minutes, he came out to a breakaway fed by J.T. Compher with a beautiful short lob shot over the stick of Miro Heiskanen. He had to be hauled down by the rookie defenseman, otherwise he was going to score.
Sheldon Dries had a pair of chances in this game. His speed caused havoc alll over the left side of the ice. He had took a shot from the wing early in the game that nearly beat Anton Khudobin on the short side, and later, after the puck took a weird bounce behind the net, the rookie had a wide open cage in front of him, but the puck dropped under his stick right at the last second.
Shots were even at six apiece after 20 minutes, but the Avs were ahead of the Stars in terms of shot attempts 14-10. The scoring chances favoured the Stars 4-5, but if it some of the Avs almost-chances were a little luckier, they would have been even, or even ahead, in that category.
It took a little more than half a period of similar play to the first 20 minutes for a team to finally break through with a goal.
Semyon Varlamov was a hero for the Avs, after he had to make some big saves to keep his boys in the game. Varly was rewarded when You Know Who broke the deadlock.
The play started with Rantanen causing a turnover in the neutral zone. He strode into the offensive zone and kicked off the cycle. As Rantanen re-retrieved the puck from Landeskog, MacKinnon had just stepped away from the net and in a shooting position. One perfect pass and a perfect shot later and the puck was behind the net.
After a shaky start to the period, the Avalanche turned on the jets in the second half of the frame. They threw a total of 16 pucks at Khudobin while giving up only nine. In shots, the Avs improved with 10 on net versus Dallas’ six. Scoring chances were also 9-3 in favour of the good guys.
Things started to open up in the third. Going one way, the Avs had a glorious chance off the stick of Tyson Barrie. MacKinnon was able to open up a whole lane for Barrie to step into with Landeskog and Rantanen driving tp the net. Barrie waited, and waited, and waited, before passing to one of the two wingers’ free sticks. Unfortunately, the puck squeaked past both and wide of the far post.
Going back the other way, though, Roope Hintz nearly got a puck through Varlamov’s armpit before Sam Girard’s dive to push the puck away from the net saved a goal. The team saw good instincts from Erik Johnson as well, who did a great job tying up a stick in front of the net - but while the Matt’s combined for a 2-on-1 later to potentially widen the lead, Calvert’s one-timer from the stick of Nieto was deflected by a sliding Stars defensemen.
Eventually, Dallas’ hounding of the puck beat Varlamov. The goal was pretty much entirely because Soderberg lost the faceoff, and then Girard or Johnson didn’t get to the front of the net the moment the initial shot was taken. Radulov and the eventual goal scorer Radek Faksa had about three or four uncontested chances in front of the net. No kidding they were going to score with that much time and space.
The Avs had sat back fully on their heels by that point, and they paid the price. Not only did their offensive generation completely deflate, they forgot to cover Jamie Benn too. Either Girard shouldn’t have cut across to the left side of the net and stayed with Benn on the right side, or Johnson should’ve seen the switch - but either way, Benn was left wide open to give the Stars their first lead of the game.
J.T. COMPHER THE HERO AGAIN. After a hero of a shift by the third line and first pair in the offensive zone, Compher found a rebound at the side of Khudobin and potted it home for his sixth goal in seven games! Pepsi Center was electric at this point.
AND MIKKO RANTANEN COMPLETES THE COMEBACK, PUTTING THE AVS AHEAD WITH TWO MINUTES LEFT IN THE THIRD. Rantanen was working hard in front of the net to find rebound Johnson created with a point shot. He spun at the perfect time and spotted the puck behind him. He grabbed the puck and scooped it around Khudobin for the go-ahead goal.
The Stars pulled their goalie with 1:29 left in the game. MacKinnon, then Johnson, each had a chance at the open cage, but they both put the puck just wide. With 13 seconds left, Varlamov snared a Radulov shot from the wing with the glove. At that point the Stars took a timeout for the final play of the game...
Aaaaand while there was a scramble with barely a few seconds left, Varlamov and the Avs stood tall (sprawled on the ice like a pile of snow) for the win.
We’ll see you back here on Tuesday when the Avalanche play the Nashville Predators in Tennessee. 6:00 pm MT start.