The Colorado Avalanche lost both Erik Johnson and Philipp Grubauer in a 5-3 loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Avs are down 0-1 in the series with Game 2 set for Monday evening. The Stars scored three in the first period and kept themselves at least a goal up at all points in the game, despite a strong night from Colorado’s top line.
Nathan MacKinnon had three points (2g, 1a) in the game, but Alex Radulov (2g, 1a) and Jamie Benn (3a) each had three points themselves, with linemate Tyler Seguin scoring two points as well (1g, 1a). Gabriel Landeskog (1g, 1a) and Samuel Girard (2a) each had two points in the loss, with Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri also getting on the scoresheet with an assist each.
Philipp Grubauer left the game in the second period after suffering what looks like a groin injury, and although Pavel Francouz stopped 18 of 20 in relief it wasn’t enough to help the team pull even with Dallas. Erik Johnson, who has been nursing injuries all playoffs, fell awkwardly twice in the game, missing significant portions of the game and eventually failing to return after a short stint in the third. The status for both players is in question as the team prepares for Game 2 in just two nights.
Alex Radulov and Jamie Benn got the Stars off on the right foot as they worked the puck down low in the Avs zone. Benn centered the puck past Erik Johnson onto the stick of Tyler Seguin in the slot. He took a quick one-timer, but the puck got deflected and wobbled in past Philipp Grubauer.
64 seconds later, Nathan MacKinnon responded with an unbelievable goal of his own. He picked up the puck in the high slot and used all his flexibility and strength to send a shot to the right side of the net as he was skating left; Khudobin stretched out but missed the puck as it sailed in, evening up the score for the only point all night.
Erik Johnson fell awkwardly with Blake Comeau and was forced to leave the game with looked like a lower body injury. Later on in the shift while Johnson was limping off the ice, though, Comeau scored with a deflection in front of the net from a point shot from Jamie Oleksiak. Johnson later returned to the game in the second period, but had to leave again before the period ended after he fell away from the play.
MacKinnon and Landeskog connected for another chance soon after the goal, but Khudobin made a top notch save to keep the Stars ahead.
Benn and Radulov connected once again off a rush chance against Sam Girard and Ryan Graves. Benn collected the dumped in puck along the boards and deftly flipped it to Radulov, who was bursting across the net. Radulov tapped the puck through the five hole of the diving Grubauer, earning his first goal of the playoffs.
The Avalanche had a much better second half of their period, but gave up the third goal to Dallas while they were pushing to truly fall into a hole. After one period, the shot share was heavily in Colorado’s favor — but Khudobin was the difference. Shot attempts: 19-12. Shots: 10-7. Scoring chances: 8-5.
Off a rush by the Stars, Grubauer tried to stop a shot coming to his right — but as he stretched out, he seemed to injure something in his left leg. It looked like a groin injury as he reached for that spot when he collapsed to the ice, but it’s hard to know for sure. Once Grubauer eventually got up, he didn’t put any pressure on his left leg and was helped off by the trainer and Nikita Zadorov right to the dressing room. Pavel Francouz immediately got his mask on and jumped into the game.
Landeskog scored on the next shift without Grubauer — making what would seem to be a push in the right direction. Makar was really active at the top of the zone, creating chaos with an initial shot. Landeskog grabbed the rebound, walked around the slot, and snuck the puck in on his forehand from behind the net. This goal was crucial at the time, considering the team just lost their goalie and they were down two goals in the second.
Unfortunately for Colorado, Radulov completed a hat trick for his top Stars line with a rebound goal that Francouz and Ian Cole nearly got to. Seguin was coming down the rush and got a shot off the shoulder but couldn’t direct it away from Radulov, who was coming down the middle hard and got his stick on it before Cole.
MacKinnon made it a one-goal game for the second time all night with a tip in front of the net. He was able to get that second goal thanks to a Samuel Girard shot, after he and Nazem Kadri collected the puck along the walls thanks to a strong forecheck.
The Avs showed some fight in the second, but the period was overshadowed with the injuries to Grubauer and Johnson. MacKinnon and Landeskog brought the team back to within one, but Radulov kept the Stars ahead with his second goal of the game. The momentum flipped back and forth with the Stars having a huge run of form in the middle of the period, but the Avs fought back at the end to make it close. After two, the Avs were down in shot attempts (14-19), shots (8-14), and scoring chances (7-10). After two, things were pretty 50/50.
Roope Hintz replenished Dallas’ two-goal lead again with a shot from the slot past Francouz. Zadorov ran away from his assignment to drop a hit on John Klingberg, directly giving the Stars a 2-on-1 down low for Jason Dickinson and an easy goal for Hintz. It was a costly mistake by Zadorov there, leaving Cole all on his own when the puck was not in a dangerous area.
The Avs tried to tie the game late but the Stars blocked all the shots heading to Khudobin and didn’t give up anything until the final horn. Stars win.
- EJ has clearly been playing hurt, and he’s a tough guy for sticking through it and playing a vital defensive role for the team — but at some point his injuries are going to catch up to him and he’s going to have to sit. He missed part of the first period, came back for the second but left early again. By the third, he didn’t enter the period until several minutes in and couldn’t make it to the halfway mark of the period before leaving permanently — a total of eight minutes. He has two days before Game 2 on Monday evening, and it’s tough to tell if he’s going to make it. Of course, then there’s the question — even if he does manage to draw into the lineup, how effective could he be?
- If EJ is out, it’s going to be more difficult watching Zadorov play more each night. The blame for the 3-5 goal is almost completely on him. What is the point of a hit if it just let’s the other team get behind you?
- Similar to the loss against Arizona, the Avalanche started the game behind and couldn’t get back to even at any point during the game. If the Avs want to win the series, they need to score first in every game. Unlike a lot of other teams, the Avs like playing up, they don’t have to take as many risks and it helps them keep a strong defensive front. The offense is there for the team, they just need to better manage defensive risk. The best way to do that is to get the lead first.