The Colorado Avalanche entered their Friday-night contest against the Arizona Coyotes knowing that if they dropped the game, they lost sole control of their own playoff fate.
Similarly, the Coyotes entered the Pepsi Center knowing that a regulation win would give them control of their fate. So while the Avalanche skated away in the end with a shootout victory, it wasn’t an easy matchup for them — and for fans looking for some early playoff-style action, it was the perfect kind of preview.
Both teams kicked off the game playing an overly-cautious brand of hockey, spending the first 20 minutes almost focusing more on preventing goals than on scoring them.
As the second period got under way, though, the pace started to shift.
The excitement started when the Avalanche were given a two minute power-play at 12:37 of the period, drawing the man advantage when Alex Galchenyuk was sent to the box for a nasty elbowing call.
A minute into the action, Nathan MacKinnon — who has all but left his early spring cold streak in the dust — was left alone by Darcy Kuemper’s back door. He fired home a beautiful pass from Gabriel Landeskog by the front of the net, welcoming the team’s captain back in style as the team scored the first goal of the game:
The Coyotes entered the game with one of the most effective (and, at times, lethal) penalty-kill units in the league, boasting the league’s best overall man down unit and 16 short-handed goals scored through 77 games.
While it may have seemed lucky that the Avs got their first power-play tally through, though, they did it again with 34 seconds left in the period. After Nick Cousins was nabbed for a tripping call against J.T. Compher, Derick Brassard reminded fans why the team brought him on at the deadline to supplement the offense. Although Richard Panik took a delayed penalty hooking Carl Soderberg’s ankle in the middle slot, Soderberg was able to feed the puck gently over to Brassard to fire home the second of the game — giving the Avalanche a two-goal lead heading into the third.
Although it appeared that the Coyotes, who had scored just one goal in their last two-and a half games, were out of the game at that point, the Avalanche fell asleep at the wheel for the third — and Arizona’s desperation quickly took control of the game.
The visiting opponents ultimately outshot Colorado 20-7 in the third period, driving a relentless offense and pummeling Philipp Grubauer almost through the entire period. It paid off for them, too; captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored Arizona’s first of the game 12 minutes into the period, then added his second of the night with just 50.5 seconds left in regulation to tie things up.
Neither team seemed particularly keen to take a risk in overtime, playing the 3-on-3 as if it was a trap-system penalty kill instead of an opportunity to score. That prevented Colorado from earning another ROW for a potential tiebreaker situation — but despite letting the Coyotes earn a crucial point and losing out on some additionally gained ground in the tiebreaker, the team couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling end.
The shootout yielded just one goal on the collective five attempts — Arizona’s Nick Cousins, Alex Galchenyuk, and Vinnie Hinostroza all failed to net one — but that lone goal was impossible to stop watching on repeat. Nathan MacKinnon, the game’s opening goal-scorer, put on such a filthy show in the skills head-to-head that Darcy Kuemper quite possibly forgot his own name:
lol nathan mackinnon is gross pic.twitter.com/FPZliwrS8T— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) March 30, 2019
- With a win, the Avalanche gained a bit more ground on Arizona, who trailed the home team by two points entering Friday’s matchup. The ideal situation for Colorado, though, would have been a regulation win; it would have given the Avalanche complete control of the ROW tiebreaker in the event that Arizona won their final four and Colorado lost their next two. Allowing Arizona to earn a point means that they’ve still got a shot, slowly creeping up behind Colorado and ensuring that the Avalanche can’t afford anything but a white-hot finish to the season.
- Grubauer was once again the driving force behind the team. MacKinnon’s shootout winner will get the optics glory, but the starting goaltender allowed just two goals on 41 shots in regulation and only two on the relentless 20-shot drive in the third alone to give his team a chance to even get to the shootout. The way Arizona controlled the play in the third — and arguably in earlier stretches during the game as well — was a harsh reminder that the Avs still have plenty of work to do before they truly look like a legitimate postseason contender.
- Landeskog’s return was about as good as could have been asked, with a perfect assist on the opening goal and four hits to go with three blocked shots for his opponents and two recorded shots of his own. It’s a relief to see that he was not only able to make his return, but do so in a way that proved that an early comeback was the right choice.