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Avalanche storm back, but can’t overcome poor first period in 5-3 loss

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Toronto Maple Leafs v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche were the second team that had to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on their Western Conference Mike Babcock Farewell Tour — and while the Leafs might have been an easy opponent to face even earlier this past week, they were far from a rollover opponent on Saturday at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche scored almost as soon as the game started, and made a valiant comeback effort in the second and third periods. But a four-goal first frame for Toronto proved to be far too much to overcome — and although the Avalanche goaltending is finally healthy once again, they dropped their second straight game to fall to 13-8-2 on the season.

The game was a meeting of old friends for both sides, as Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot made their returns to Denver and Nazem Kadri got to face the team he spent his formative years with while hosting in his new home. And while it ended up being a more competitive game than anyone expected after 20 minutes, it was far from the kind of outcome that Colorado wanted as they try to push their way through the tough, tight November schedule.

THE RUNDOWN

The Avalanche looked to be off to a hot start when, just 30 seconds into the first period, Nathan MacKinnon tallied his 14th goal of the season:

Philipp Grubauer struggled in his third consecutive start since his injury, though, allowing four goals on 15 shots in a first period that Toronto took steady command over.

Nick Shore’s goal was in his first game back after serving as a healthy scratch against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, evening up the scoring at a goal apiece just before the halfway point in the first frame.

Auston Matthews would put up goal sixteen just over a minute later to give Toronto a 2-1 lead, and then Tyson Barrie — who only just scored his first goal as a Leaf against Arizona two days prior — would widen the lead to a 3-1 deficit on the power-play only a few minutes later:

Two-way specialist Kasperi Kapanen then put up his seventh goal of the season at 17:36 of the frame, leaving Colorado floundering and wondering where that hot start ran off to as they entered the dressing room for the first intermission.

Pavel Francouz came in for Colorado in relief to start the second period, but the damage had already been done. Colorado would get two more goals before the game was through — a second-period tally by Andre Burakovsky to give him 11 goals and counting on the season, then Val Nichushkin’s first goal of the season in the third frame — but Zach Hyman would score an empty-netter with just one second left on the clock and seal Colorado’s fate in Toronto’s second straight victory out on the road.

Colorado gave it their all in the final two periods in an attempt to come back from their disastrous start, outshooting Toronto by a collective 29-13 in the second two periods and boasting a perfect 12-save performance from Pavel Francouz during his relief stint. But with an elite performance from Leafs starter Frederik Andersen, the damage had already been done. Although Colorado finally got their act together as the game wore on, it seems that the high Toronto has been experiencing since their abrupt coaching chance helped carry them to yet another Sheldon Keefe-coaching victory.

TAKEAWAYS:

I had a lot of really strong opinions about Val Nichushkin when he first broke into the league. I figured that at some point, the flash of brilliance he showed as a rookie was bound to show up again — but whether he’s truly not cut out for elite NHL caliber hockey or something got irreparably damaged in his game during his tumultuous years playing on-and-off with Dallas, he’s clearly no longer a quality scoring option.

He’s been a sheltered forward and probably doesn’t deserve more than a few lines in a recap, but I’m happy for him for getting his first goal in 92 games. Lesser men and women have gotten discouraged in less time, but he seems to still genuinely give it his all.

A Finnish commentator I follow was genuinely baffled by this one. It seemed clear as day that Kerfoot hit him from behind, and heavier discipline on that one wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.

But ultimately, all we can hope for is that Johnson isn’t seriously hurt. Given the team’s luck this year, that’s the last thing they need.