Leaders lead by example, and that’s exactly what Nathan MacKinnon did to spark a Game 3 landslide victory for the Colorado Avalanche at home to the Calgary Flames. MacKinnon’s two power play goals in the first period laid the foundation for the Avalanche to score four more goals enroute to a 6-2 win. Rookie playing in his first-ever NHL game, Cale Makar, scored his first career goal on his first career shot in the first period, the goal ended up being the game-winner on the night.
The Avalanche also made history in the game. The 2019 Avalanche demolished the franchise record for shots on goal in a playoff game (in regulation). The record used to be 41, it is now 56. The caveat in the statistic includes the two triple-overtime wins won by the 1996 Avalanche enroute to the Stanley Cup in that year.
It was a great night. Let’s go through it.
Early in the game, the referees set a no-nonsense tone to the officiating in the game (that they stuck to, for better or worse) when they gave Ian Cole a penalty for cross-checking. The Avalanche were quickly able to kill the penalty, they only gave up one minor chance that Philipp Grubauer parried away confidently.
Directly following the penalty kill, Nathan MacKinnon stepped on the ice and entranced every fan, analyst, and player with his unrelenting power and speed. The Flames were quickly on their heels and took a too-many-men penalty and a hooking penalty from Oscar Fantenberg all in the same shift. On the ensuing two-man advantage, MacKinnon did what he did best (shoot and score) and set a tone for the night himself.
From there, the Avalanche followed their top centers lead and came after the Flames shift after shift. By the 10-minute mark of the first period, they had out-shot the Flames 10-4 and were well on their way to a successful first period. Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk tried to start some shenanigans between whistles, and it got the two teams in each other’s faces, but the referees and linesmen did a good job of keeping things from escalating to Leafs-Bruins levels of chaos. Low bar, I know.
With seven minutes left in the period, Nikita Zadorov drew a holding penalty on Garnet Hathaway along the boards. The power play unit stepped across the blue line and MacKinnon proceeded to score his second goal of the night. Tyson Barrie and J.T. Compher assisted on the first goal, but this time it was his trusty partners Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog who provided the assistance.
Then about three minutes later, MacKinnon created another scoring chance, but this one was special. He skated down the right wing at full speed, backing off the Flames defense enough for him to stop up and find CALE MAKAR driving hard into the offensive zone behind him with a pass. From there, the rookie in his first career professional hockey game burst through three Flames, regained the puck on his stick, and smashed the puck through the five-hole of Mike Smith for his first career goal on his first career shot.
Pepsi Center, the fans at home, Twitter, and the MHH office went nuts. First in shock, then in disbelief, then in utter jubilation. We will be talking about this goal for years to come. What a talent. What a debut. Couldn’t ask for anything better from the 20-year-old. Oh, and just to remind everyone, apart from Miro Heiskanen, Makar is the only first-round pick from 2017 to be playing in these playoffs [thank you to El Bernardo for pointing that mistake out]. He didn’t make the show first, but he sure showed up when it counted the most.
It was an utterly dominant period from the Avalanche, who had essentially extinguished the Flames with snow shards in their zone. After one, the Avalanche were ahead in 5v5 shot attempts (21-12), shots (13-6), and scoring chances (11-5). Everything was rolling perfectly smoothly.
Between periods, CBC interviewed Makar. Here is a video of the interview below. He seems like a really nice kid.
In the second period, the Avalanche got caught up in the physical play a little too much and Sven Andrighetto got called for a roughing penalty. The extracurriculars, however, didn’t stop the Avs from playing hockey the way that made them successful: fast. While on the kill, Cole got two shorthanded chances as a result of some great puck recovery in the defensive zone and transition into the neutral zone.
On his second attempt opened up to him by Erik Johnson, Cole went far side and forced Smith to blocker the puck away. Meanwhile, Matt Nieto had skated the length of the ice, past several Flames, and got to the puck in time to slap home Colorado’s fourth goal of the night from a tough angle. If the Flames weren’t done already, this shorthanded goal was the nail in the coffin on the night.
The Nieto goal was the dagger, but the Flames still had a power play and they used a mistake by Patrik Nemeth of failing to tie up Sam Bennett’s stick in front of the net to close the gap in the game back to three goals.
With the shorthanded goal cushioning the blow of the power play goal, the Avs went back to work and after Zadorov helped negate a shot attempt on Grubauer by Sean Monahan, Mikko Rantanen and Colin Wilson went the other way on a quick rush. With the Flames pushing too far forward with their first line, Rantanen was able to give the puck to Wilson while he drifted into clean air at the top of the slot undetected.
A quick pass from Wilson and an even quicker snapper Rantanen later and the puck was in the net. Goal number five on the night for the Avalanche was the first career playoff goal for the third-year pro in his second playoff.
It was a better period for the Flames as they were able to throw more pucks at Grubauer than the Avs were able to at Smith (19-22), but in terms of shots on goal (14-10) and scoring chances (12-8), the Avalanche carried the pace.
In between periods, the CBC panel suggested that the Flames sit Smith for the third “out of respect” and to rest him for Game 4 (also in Colorado), and if he played in the third that Calgary would likely go with David Rittich for that game. Despite some of their flawed logic, they do know how Hockey Men think. It’ll be interesting to see who the Flames start in net on Thursday. It’s almost do or die time for the reigning Western Conference Champions.
Then the third came and the Avalanche couldn’t help themselves from scoring. It was within the first minute of the period when Johnson and Nieto got away from a 4-on-3 power play for the Flames and went on a rush with Cole (who had just leap out of the box after serving a roughing penalty from the previous period). Nieto nearly scored, but Cole was able to find the rebound, spin, and throw the puck back on net while Smith and the Flames scrambled to find themselves. On it’s way to the net, Johnson tipped the puck just enough to have it slide between Smith’s pads for a goal.
Throughout all the chaos of special teams and penalties, the Avalanche were able to harness their speed and created chance after chance after chance. It was truly a sight to behold.
On the next shift, the Flames were able to push forward and create a bit of havoc in the offensive zone in front of Grubauer. Eventually, the puck bounced back to the top of the slot where T.J. Brodie sifted a wrister around Grubauer and into the back of the net. The Avalanche had a mental lapse in focus and it cost them. Hopefully they are able to carry those lessons on to the next games.
The rest of the third period was a bit of a joke. The referees had had enough of the Flames’ shenanigans and spent the next 18 minutes kicking Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, and Garnet Hathaway out of the game. Zadorov was also sent to the showers early for his tussle with Hathaway at the end of the game. Credit to the referees for identifying who the aggressors were in these instances and only giving the harshest penalties to those in white and orange. Sure, the Avalanche got their fair share of minor penalties, but it was usually evened up the other way. All things considered, the referees did a good job of managing tempers on both sides.
Tkachuk unloads on Landeskog pic.twitter.com/oFcsTRH4oD— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 16, 2019
Aside from one impressive breakaway by Tyson Jost in the third, the two teams spent much of the third just playing out the period. One thing that the Avalanche did appear to be playing for was making sure they didn’t give up another goal for Grubauer and Makar’s sakes. And good on them for doing so, it shows major comradery and respect to block a shot with your face for your teammate.
Ian Cole stops a Johnny Gaudreau shot with his face pic.twitter.com/Num7O5pQ9k— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 16, 2019
Meanwhile in the stands, the fans at The Can were having the times of their lives. You do you, Colorado.
"Smith You Suck" chants from the crowd at Pepsi Center #GoAvsGo— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) April 16, 2019
So yeah, the Avalanche won and carry a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Wednesday at 8:00 pm MT at home. From this point onwards, the Avalanche have two games at home (4 and 6) and two on the road (5 and 7). Game 5 will be played in Calgary on Friday night with games 6 and 7 on an “if necessary” basis.
It’s been a crazy weekend for the Avalanche who have seen their series turn from a 4-0 shutout into a 2-1 series lead. It was also a crazy weekend for one young Cale Makar, who covered his Hobey Baker Award year, first NHL contract year, first NHL game year, first NHL playoff game year, and first NHL goal year all in the span of 72 hours. If only he had won the National Championship, it would’ve been too perfect. Guess he’ll have to settle for a Stanley Cup, amirite!