The Colorado Avalanche have been white-hot nearly since Valentine’s Day, picking up seven straight victories in the two weeks since they last dropped a match-up on February 17th.
While they had managed to roll over tougher opponents like Washington and Carolina in the handful of games played down the late February stretch, though, it was a team far outside of the playoff race that finally did them in. With a late OT thriller of a goal from Rickard Rakell, the Anaheim Ducks were the team that came out of Thursday night’s contest on top — and finally took the Avalanche out of their spot firmly in the win column in the process.
The Avalanche entered Thursday night’s game well-rested and back at home, fresh from a three-day rest following their 2-1 victory Monday night over the free-falling Detroit Red Wings.
Across the ice, the Ducks were fatigued after getting trounced by the Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 just one night earlier. They were starting the aging Ryan Miller instead of star goaltender John Gibson, and it seemed like a game that would be in the bag for the home team.
Instead, all three of Colorado’s regulation goals — scored by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Vladislav Namestnikov — were answered with a trio of goals by Anaheim at the hands of former Avalanche depth forward Andrew Agozzino, Brendan Guhle, and Sam Steel. Each team would put up two goals in the first period alone — a rare feat for anyone to do against Pavel Francouz — and the Ducks spent nearly a full period trying to fend off the Avalanche from tying things up after Steel’s goal put them up 3-2 just midway through the second period.
Nathan MacKinnon’s tally kept the Avalanche from walking away from the game empty-handed, though, as the elite centreman put up his 34th goal of the season on a beautiful effort just :38 seconds into a Colorado power-play in the middle of the third period. He smoothly snagged a pass from Gabriel Landeskog just over the red line at center ice and wove through the Anaheim penalty kill structure, firing a quick but beautiful shot past Ryan Miller to ensure his team was able to at the very least take home a point as they continue to creep towards St. Louis in the standings.
It seemed as if the game was destined for a shootout, with Pavel Francouz stopping his first six shots faced in OT and Ryan Miller turning away five of his own.
But with just two seconds left on the clock — and his teammates counting down the seconds for him on the bench over to the side — Anaheim’s Rakell fired a shot that deflected off of Colorado defender Samuel Girard’s stick and past Francouz to seal the Avalanche’s fate and send them home just short of the ultimate prize.
- Despite a disappointing outcome, the Avalanche managing to get an extra point out of even a less-than-thrilling loss means that they now sit just two points behind St. Louis in the Central Division with a game in hand. They’re a full six points up on the Pacific Division leaders in Vegas, meaning that they’ve got a very real chance to contend for the Western Conference title — and if they keep pushing hard enough, they should end the regular season with home-ice advantage in the bag.
- Nathan MacKinnon’s goal was his first in eight games, both a sign that he needed to shake off a bit of a bad-luck spectre and that the team has been boasting some pretty strong goaltending to get them through his slump. They haven’t put up more than three goals since February 4th, which stretches just slightly longer than MacKinnon’s own scoring dry spell — and while the outcome on Thursday with his goal wasn’t what they wanted, it was hopefully a sign that he’ll get back to his MVP-esque ways now. Pavel Francouz has been capable of keeping the team in games while the star center has been struggling, but a deep playoff run will need just a little more offensive consistency.
- Speaking of Pavel Francouz, it was an uncharacteristic ‘off’ night for the NHL rookie goalie — and it could barely be called that as it is. Francouz turned away 26 of 30 shots through regulation and OT, good for his worst performance since the team’s last loss. He still sits on one of the league’s strongest performances this year, keeping his team in just about every game he plays. If he’s able to keep this kind of play up — and Nathan MacKinnon gets back to scoring with a bit more regularity — he could very well be the key to a scary playoff performance this year.