After splitting the first two games of their series with the Vegas Golden Knights, the Colorado Avalanche got a lot of good news ahead of their game in Lake Tahoe. Saturday would mark a return to a lineup with most of the significant contributors that had been missing for a few weeks. Matt Calvert, Tyson Jost, Samuel Girard, Cale Makar and captain Gabriel Landeskog would all return to the ice as Jared Bednar’s lineup would get as close to 100% as it’s been all season.
The newly reinforced Avalanche would take the ice in an incredible looking environment. Pregame shots of the rink at Edgewood Tahoe Resort were breath-taking. With a clear blue sky that was both lovely to behold and a bad sign for the ice quality for the game. The teams walking out in their reverse retro uniforms didn’t do anything to harm the picturesque views. The full effect of the uniform was fantastic and even the Vegas jersey looked particularly sharp with the contrast of the Avalanche uniforms and scenery in Tahoe. NBC really got quite a looker for their marquee outdoor matchup.
The start of the game would be delayed with ice issues. I mention this as it would become a theme for the afternoon.
After a number of hurdles and an afternoon that was unlike any the NHL has ever seen, the Avalanche would eventually leave the rink at Tahoe with a 3-2 victory over the Golden Knights.
NBC’s normal NFL announcer Mike Tirico opens the broadcast with a statement of “We’re going to stop talking and let you listen to the sounds from the ice”. This lasted about 10 seconds. That was long enough for me to long for the option to turn the broadcast team off like it was a video game. The setting along with the sounds of skates ripping ice and pucks careening off boards would be an incredible audio/video package.
The full Avalanche lineup reuniting was also an incredible sight to see. Colorado jumped out of the gates quickly putting pressure on the Vegas defense. The Jost/Compher/Landeskog line was an interesting combination, with Landeskog driving play for the line and making Jost and Compher look more dangerous.
It wouldn’t take long for the Avalanche to capitalize.
Nathan MacKinnon has amazing vision. His cross ice pass found Girard and he ripped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury giving the Avalanche the lead with less than three minutes off the game clock. The play was started by a nice breakout pass from Rantanen to MacKinnon. These two would combine to test Fleury again numerous times throughout the period, especially when combined with Makar. The three Avalanche stars together on the ice turned five on five hockey into what looked like a Colorado power play.
The Avalanche would keep the pressure up, dominating the first ten minutes of play. Vegas responded around the halfway mark in the period, putting their first real pressure on Philipp Grubauer’s net. Grubauer held solid throughout, stopping all seven shots faced in the period.
To close out the first, Mark Stone got his stick up into the chin of Rantanen to draw a high-sticking penalty and blood from the Avalanche winger for a double-minor. The first unit would stay out for the first of the penalties and have some strong chances from Rantanen and Kadri, but Fleury would hold solid. During the line change, the Vegas penalty kill would get caught with too many men on the ice and hand the Avalanche nearly a minute and a half of five on three hockey. However, Fleury would make a sensational save on MacKinnon as the period winded down to keep the game within a goal.
The Avalanche controlled the first period, outshooting the Golden Knights 17-7. Vegas was a bit fortunate to only be down on goal after Colorado spent a majority of the period peppering their goal.
At the end of the first period there would be more problems with the surface of the Lake Tahoe facility and delay the game. The corners of the Avalanche defensive zone looked really wet, sloppy and slow as the period wore on and player safety was wisely cited as the reasoning for the delay.
After nearly eight hours, the game finally got back under way and the change in ice condition was instantly noticeable. It wasn’t perfect, but the ice surface had clearly recovered in a huge way from the afternoon. The ice was a lot more solid and while it got beat up as the period went on, it was a vast improvement on the dangerous environment the players were forced to play through in the opening period.
Speeds were noticeably higher and the teams looked like they were better prepared to deal with the elements. The Avs came out flying and it took a tremendous effort from Fleury to keep the game at 1-0 early in the period.
Despite a ton of pressure from the Avs, Vegas was able to tie the game up when Alec Martinez put home a juicy rebound at 7:37 of the second frame.
The Vegas goal didn’t slow down the Avalanche as less than five minutes they regained the lead when the most electrifying man in hockey made the game 2-1. Nathan MacKinnon scored his fourth goal of the season and at the same time left Alex Pietrangelo in complete awe.
It turns out it’s not just the fans watching the games who are mesmerized by what Nathan MacKinnon does - the opposition is just as amazed.
The game got a little sloppier as the period went on. Both teams took a number of penalties but neither was able to capitalize on their turns with the man advantage. The score remained 2-1 going into the final 20 minutes.
With Nazem Kadri already in the penalty box, the Avalanche went down two men when Cale Makar was sent off for delay of game. Despite the allure of assuming a 5 on 3 is a sure bet for a goal, the Avalanche were able to kill off 1:20 of a two man disadvantage early in the period - a penalty kill that could have turned the game completely.
For the first half of this period, it was Philipp Grubauer’s turn to bail his team out. The Avalanche netminder made some big saves and was able to maintain the 2-1 long enough for Devon Toews to score his fourth goal of the season - extending the lead to two. The point shot from Toews was aided by an absolutely perfect screen in front by Mikko Rantanen. Avs go up 3-1.
With the primary assist, Nathan MacKinnon recorded his third point of the game.
The two goal lead didn’t last long as a little more than a minute later, Alex Tuch pulled Vegas back to within one.
That’s as close as the Golden Knights would get as Grubauer would shut the door the rest of the way. He continued his hot play, making 12 of his 23 saves in the final period to shut the door on a 3-2 Avalanche victory.
With the win, the Avalanche pull within one game of Vegas for first place in the Honda West Division.
After a memorable few days in Lake Tahoe, the Avalanche will return to the friendly confinds of Ball Arena Monday to put a cap on their four game series with the Vegas Golden Knights. The team is healthy, they’re flying and now is the time that they start to show the rest of the league who the true contenders are.