The Colorado Avalanche have been, for the most part, a structured and scary team to play against this year when healthy.
The Leafs, on the other hand, have had more than a few games where they were chaos central. And on Wednesday night, the Avalanche added into the fun with some chaos of their own — they came out on top, but their 3-1 final score was messy, hilarious, and more than a little inexplicable at times.
Philipp Grubauer made 38 stops, Valeri Nichushkin took five (!!) shots, and Nathan MacKinnon scored the funniest goal we’ll see all year to give the team their 17th win to inch them ever-closer to the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues.
The first period was a bit of a messy, run-and-gun stretch for both teams, with good goaltending on each end masking a handful of defensive breakdowns and opposing end rushes. No one managed to score, and the officials swallowed their whistles a bit to let the chaos reign, but no real action picked up until the second period got under way — when Colorado finally managed to showcase their man-advantage skills and get on the board.
The Leafs went on the penalty kill halfway through the second frame thanks to a hooking penalty taken by Dmytro Timashov, and the Avalanche quickly went to work. Barely :30 seconds into the power play, Nazem Kadri’s feed to Cale Makar at the point gave the stellar blue liner a chance to push the puck up the boards to Mikko Rantanen and draw Toronto’s attention away from Nathan MacKinnon across the ice. From there, all it took was a cross-ice pass just high of the slot, and MacKinnon roofed one over Frederik Andersen’s glove to put the Avalanche up 1-0.
The Leafs came back with a goal of their own in the second period just minutes later, when Cale Makar missed a defensive assignment and let Zach Hyman position himself directly in front of Grubauer for a centering pass and deflection. After 40 minutes, the score was tied at one apiece.
The game finally shifted in Colorado’s favor midway through the third period, when Valeri Nichushkin tallied his third goal of the season on an inexplicable short-handed breakaway (more on that later) to put the Avalanche up 2-1. Neither team would manage to slip one past a goaltender again on the night, but an empty-netter from Joonas Donskoi (which made for his 12th goal of the season and counting) gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead with 1:19 left to play. The Leafs tried their best, but they were unable to ultimately dig themselves out of the hole made by the gaffe on the short-handed chance and let Colorado skate away with the win.
Now, about that short-handed goal...
THE BEST MOMENT OF THE NIGHT
It’s really not even close, right?
There are, and I don’t say this lightly, truly no words for this.
Valeri Nichushkin takes advantage of a Leafs mishap. 2-1. pic.twitter.com/odfWW0756s— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 5, 2019
Nathan MacKinnon remains one of the most talented people in the NHL. He’s smart, he’s fast, he’s good with his shot, and he’s absolutely relentless. And Cale Makar is very likely this year’s Calder Trophy front-runner. Mikko Rantanen is terrifying to watch, and Grubauer is dazzling most nights — including tonight.
But this particular goal, courtesy of Valeri Nichushkin, is the best moment of the night. Full stop. Nothing MacKinnon did could top it. No save Philipp Grubauer made could overshadow it. It’s hilarious. It’s bad! There really is nowhere to start with this.
I'd like someone to do a Renaissance painting of that Nichushkin goal. Like Rielly is stretching out his hands like a dying angel or something and Spezza just runs a pick on him for reasons known only to God— Acting the Fulemin (@ATFulemin) December 5, 2019
All that we really need, to be honest, is to have someone set the gaffe and the ensuing goal to Yakety Sax.
- The Leafs have been considered the league’s strongest current contenders for comeback kids after finally parting ways with head coach Mike Babcock, flexing their wings under younger (and more open-minded) head coach Sheldon Keefe to continue thriving with their run-and-gun style. They’ve been a high event team on both ends of the ice over the last few years, but the Avalanche bought into it a little bit too much at times — and it left them with a win, but with what also could have been a much cleaner game.
- Speaking of cleaner games: it wasn’t the best night for rookie phenom Cale Makar, defensively, but it was decidedly one of the better games for Nikita Zadorov on a pairing with Samuel Girard. The duo did a phenomenal job of shutting down the Leafs when they were out on the ice — which was a large part of what kept the game from getting closer after the short-handed mishap for Toronto.