Entering their Wednesday night contest, the Colorado Avalanche were tied with the Arizona Coyotes for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference to set up a massive showdown between the two teams on Friday evening.
First, though, the Avalanche had to face a very tough opponent in the Vegas Golden Knights, hoping to gather a crucial two points as a cushion heading into the next biggest game of the year. The Avalanche did just that as they held off a late surge from Vegas for a 4-3 win.
Despite not looking like the team in control for much of the first period, it was the Avalanche who escaped with a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. Matt Calvert opened the scoring when the Golden Knights lost coverage on him, and at 5:39 he wired home a wrist shot past goaltender Malcom Subban.
The party was just getting started, though, as Nathan MacKinnon added his 28th goal of the season on the power-play just three minutes later.
The second period was more of a back and forth affair, as the Avalanche and Golden Knights traded a pair of goals each.
First, Tyson Barrie fired home a shot at 7:18, floating one past Subban for his 12th of the year and 73rd of his career in order to claim the title of most goals scored by a defenseman in franchise history.
After falling in a 0-3 hole, though, Vegas began to wake up with Paul Stastny getting the visitors on the board with a wrap-around on goaltender Philipp Grubauer at 10:57 of the second. Reilly Smith added another at 14:47 on a defensive breakdown, and the Golden Knights were back in the game.
Unlikely hero Gabriel Bourque said not so fast, and fired home a wrister of his own at 17:10 to give the Avalanche a two-goal lead into intermission again after 40 minutes of play.
Vegas fired 15 shots on Grubauer in the third period, but only made things interesting with under four minutes to go when Alex Tuch took advantage of another lapse in defensive coverage and cut the lead to one. The Golden Knights got a few good looks with the goaltender pulled for the extra attacker, but the Avalanche held on for victory.
Another effort by committee, as the Avalanche are basically forced to rely entirely on secondary scoring while Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen continue to nurse injuries. Matt Nieto was able to make his return in this contest after a lengthy absence to bolster the lineup a bit.
It was another sloppy but inspired affair, as the team played the ‘bend but don’t break’ brand of hockey they do so well to move two points closer to securing a playoff berth over Arizona.
On the heels of his third star of the week honors, Grubauer continued to be the “Berlin Wall” for the Avalanche. He’s been quite possibly the single biggest reason why they are currently in sole possession of a playoff spot. With 33 saves in this contest, Grubauer put up another excellent performance.
While it was a full team contribution in this victory, the imbalance in the lineup will eventually catch up to the Avalanche. MacKinnon once again played over 21 minutes, while Andrew Agozzino played less than six. With the injuries this is understandable, but it is also indicative of a depth issue in the organization which saw the Avalanche dress only 11 forwards for the last couple weeks as well.
The aforementioned meeting with the Arizona Coyotes which could possibly decide playoff fates at 7pm MT on Friday at the Pepsi Center.