The Avs needed to use the game as a jumping off point for a possible end of the year run in what has been an up and down season. At least for now, though, there is still hope after a one-sided 3-0 Avalanche victory.
A loss would have kept the Avs six points behind an idle Arizona Coyotes club with 10 games left. Colorado prevented that from happening, and are a team still in the playoff mix now as they sit only four points behind Arizona (while at the same time jumping Chicago to lead the Blackhawks by a single point).
The Avs controlled the pace of play early on, and were given some chances to get on the board almost immediately. The fast pace of play coupled with some inexperienced New Jersey players had the Devils chasing early in the period, resulting in a power play opportunity for the Avalanche less than five minutes in.
Colorado would come up empty in the man advantage, but got several shots on goal that kept goalie Cory Schneider active. The signs were there from the start that they would put the pressure on for a full 60 minutes knowing full well the importance of winning this matchup.
The Avalanche killed a Devils power play not long after to get right back to being the team in charge, keeping possession of the puck for the majority of the period. Despite that, though, period one would end with both teams not finding the net.
Schneider stopped 13 Avs shots on goal compared to the mere five turned away by Grubuaer — and when the discrepancy is that wide early, it usually works in the Avs favor by the end of the game.
As lethargic as the Devils were in the first, they had their first big chance to score not long into the second — and it was a flailing Philipp Grubauer left arm that saved a Drew Stafford wrist shot from giving the Devils the lead.
Like so many times in games across the league, a great save led to an offensive opportunity for Colorado. Nathan MacKinnon danced his way through the Devils defense — and while he eventually lost control of the puck after getting through just about every Devils player, it found its way to a waiting Tyson Barrie — who ripped a wrist shot past Schneider and gave the Avs a 1-0 lead.
The Avs would exhibit some sloppy play after the Barrie goal and give the Devils two power play opportunities, but managed kill them both with relative ease.
They then settled back down and played their game of dominance. Tyson Barrie was credited with his second goal of the game after he sent a wrist shot towards the net from inside the blue line which went off two separate players, the last of which being the Devils own Travis Zajac’s skate and found the net to give the Avs a 2-0 lead.
The Avs continued to possess the puck and control the action despite yet another penalty in the final five minutes of the second. And although the Devils would narrow the SOG margin during their own man advantage, Colorado still controlled.
The Avs were men among boys in the third, seemingly doing what they wished against an outmatched Devils team. Colorado was in the precarious position of making sure they held the lead to end with the win — but they failed to let it trip them up, finishing with a successful performance when all was said and done.
One thing that might have given the Avs a little more confidence in not letting the Devils back in the game was the once again top notch goal-tending of Grubauer.
In a game as one sided as this it was almost sacrilegious it seemed Nathan MacKinnon would only have one point. He was once again the most dominant player on the ice and the empty net goal to give him another point in the game seemed like it was the hockey Gods awarding him for being so.
The Devils looked like a team defeated as soon as the puck dropped — and despite them being tied 0-0 after one, you could clearly see which team was playing for a post-season berth and which was simply going through the motions.
If the Avs want to make one final push for the playoffs they will have to do it on the back of Grubauer, at least from a goalie standpoint. Semyon Varlamov has been better but he has not matched the level of excellence that Philipp Grubauer has shown. Not something we Avs fans would have thought about two months ago. He has quickly become a fan favorite and, next to MacKinnon, has been the Avs best player.
Nathan MacKinnon attained his 90th and 91st point of the season and in doing so became only the 2nd Avalanche player to score back to back 90 point seasons. The other being Peter Forsberg. Joe Sakic also achieved the back to back 90 point seasons feat but as a member of the Quebec Nordiques where he attained at least 90 points for five straight seasons.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Alexander Kerfoot. He played one of his most solid games of the season despite not showing up on the stat sheet.