The Avalanche entered their game last night needing a bounce back after a tough OT loss to a subpar Anaheim team, and after the Blues surprising defeat at the hands of the Devils, the Avs also had a chance to snag first place in the West for themselves while still holding a game in hand. Vancouver entered the game on a cold streak, and after holding a playoff spot consistently since the All-Star break, suddenly found themselves on the outside looking in. Both teams are young, fast paced and high-scoring, which usually makes for entertaining hockey. Tonight was no exception; a back and forth affair played at breackneck speed. Although the Avs seemed to hold an advantage for most of the night (especially the first period), Vancouver capitalized on their every mistake, walking out with a 6-3 victory.
The first period started out rough for the Avs, with Vancouver snatching a quick goal less than a minute and a half into the game. JT Miller found Troy Stecher who made no mistake burying his shot into the top corner, over goaltender Pavel Francouz’s glove. After the initial goal, the TV broadcast was quick to point out Nikita Zadorov’s absence from tonight’s lineup, and insinuated he would’ve been useful in preventing Vancouver’s early goal. His absence was not noticeable for the next eight minutes, which the Avalanche completely controlled, save for a breakaway opportunity for Jake Virtanen and the 2 on 1 that led to Vancouver’s second goal
“Elias Pettersson is stupid good” was the only specific note I made on this goal, and it about sums it up. Although it was JT Miller who put the puck in the back of the net, it was Pettersson’s elite ability that made it possible. On a streaking 2 on 1, he slowed himself to a snails pace until Ian Cole was forced to make a decision to play either the puck or the open man. With Cole choosing to defend Pettersson, Miller was left wide open to receive a perfect pass which he quickly buried. Again, after the Canucks scored, the Avalanche took control of the game. This time however, they would be the ones to score.
As good as Pettersson’s assist looked, Nathan MacKinnon was out to match it almost instantaneously. Gliding into the Vancouver zone, he spun 180 degrees - a move he pulled out of his bag of tricks several times tonight - initially looking for a backhand shot. However, he immediately drew three Canuck defenders toward the net, leaving Erik Johnson wide open to hammer a goal through Thatcher Demko’s five hole.
After Johnson’s goal, the Avs continued to control the rest of the period, but left the ice with just the one goal to show for it.
The Canucks came out with a renewed energy in the second, and again grabbed an early goal to kick off the period. After the Avs began to sustain some attacking time, Zack MacEwan took a puck that squirted into the neutral zone and turned up ice with speed. He had a step on both Avalanche players trailing him, and beat Francouz glove side with a quick wrist shot. At this point in time, the Canucks had scored three times on only eight shots, and if Philip Grubauer was the one on the bench rather than Michael Hutchison, I would not have been surprised to see a goalie change, simply to try and wake the defense up a bit. While the Avs defense may have been asleep at the wheel, their offense was not as content to go away so quietly.
Again the Avs came back with a quick answer to a Canuck goal, and again the assist came off the stick of Nathan MacKinnon. If you were only watching the puck once the Avs gained full control, you may have missed MacKinnon’s brilliant assist. After a dump in from Erik Johnson went into the corner, MacKinnon expertly poked the puck out from against the boards to Gabe Landeskog. The Captain found some room and ripped one home past Thatcher Demko.
The play was less Avalanche dominated after they closed the gap to one, but they’d soon find the back of the net again, despite a lack of shots.
The Avs had an argument for a third goal after Thatcher Demko denied MacKinnon on a partial breakaway, then stopped Vladislav Kamenev on the rebound before Tyler Myers crashed into Kamenev, sending both players, Demko, and the puck lodged in his pad crashing into the goal and dislodging the net from its bearings. Although the puck was stuck in Demko’s pad, it did cross the goal line when Demko’s leg swung into the net. The officials did not see enough to call a goal however, and the Avs would be denied their game tying goal until a few minutes later, when Valeri Nichuskin would pot his 13th of the year. Full disclosure, this goal happened while the TV broadcast was doing a piece on their current charity, so many viewers (including myself) didn’t see what happened until it was replayed. Coming back from a TV timeout, the Avs won a defensive zone faceoff and Matt Nieto found Nichuskin streaking up ice. Nichuskin finished with ease, showing again why the Avs scooped him up this offseason.
Unfortunately, even with some quality chances throughout the rest of this period and throughout the third, this was the last Avalanche goal of the evening.
Antoine Roussel found the back of the net after redirecting an Adam Gaudette pass, in what would turn out to be the game winner. The Avalanche should have found themselves on a power play before the period ended, as Tyler Myers laid a dangerous hit on Tyson Jost, sending him awkwardly into the boards and forcing him back to the dressing room for a couple minutes. However, the penalty was negated by Erik Johnson’s response to the hit, forcing the Avs to skate 4 on 4 rather than with a man advantage. If Myers were 4 inches shorter, that hit probably would’ve been penalized more and would get a look from the Department of Player Safety. However, most of the danger from this hit will be attributed to his size and the fact that he was trying to contain the much shorter Jost, who made a move around Myers that left him with little options for a man his size.
Although the Avs continued to push hard for an equalizer, it was not to be. The teams traded power plays, and spent some more time at 4 on 4. The Avs special teams looked good on both the kill and with the man advantage, but couldn’t find the back of the net. They played well in the third, but were already running out of time when Vancouver put it out of reach.
Zack MacEwan scored his second goal of the night, taking a pass from behind the net and finishing with ease. His goal came with only three minutes left to play, and left the Avs in a precarious situation, needing goals ASAP.
There were no more Avalanche goals to be found tonight, and after pulling Pavel Francouz with over two minutes to play, Tanner Pearson found the empty net to send the Avs packing.
Despite the score, the Avalanche played very well tonight. I don’t believe in the saying that a team who lost “deserved to win” based on their play, but I will say that almost every Canucks goal tonight felt like it came against the run of play, save for the game winning goal and the empty netter. The Avalanche cannot afford to let a team capitalize off mistakes the way Vancouver did tonight. The Avs will have a night off before finishing their West Coast road trip with a back to back at San Jose and Los Angeles. Those games are must wins for the Avs to have a chance at grabbing first place in the West. They will need to take advantage of their game in hand if they want to leapfrog the Blues and finish the year in first, especially because Dallas is not an appealing first round opponent this year. The next Avalanche game will be Sunday at 8:00 PM MT against San Jose.