The Arizona Coyotes opted not to qualify goaltender Hunter Miska during the 2019 summer off-season, leaving him to pursue a contract as a 24-year old unrestricted free agent.
While the Avalanche initially only brought the Edina, Minnesota native on as an AHL depth option two summers ago, though, his work ethic and promising minor league performance earned him a bump to an NHL deal midway through last year — and he was not only able to face off against his former team on Friday night, he was able to squeak out a win against them in the process.
Miska made 16 saves over a 60-minute performance in Colorado’s 3-2 victory against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena to cap off his week, picking up his first career victory while helping the Avs move back into a postseason berth in game 17.
The Avalanche hadn’t faced the Arizona Coyotes in six months when they took the ice in Glendale on Friday; while they were supposed to play a small divisional series earlier this season, things were postponed due to Colorado’s covid hiatus.
The Coyotes seemed to get transported back to the Edmonton bubble as soon as the puck dropped, though. They’ve been a surprisingly resilient opponent so far this season, forcing teams to grind out points in overtime and benefitting from a surprising offensive surge at the hands of up-and-coming center Christian Dvorak. All of that resilience and underdog-driven tenacity seemed to melt away, though, as they were held to just 18 shots against over a 60-minute frame against Colorado in the Avalanche’s first real shot at getting back into the win column.
Colorado clearly controlled the play through the first 20 minutes, but Adin Hill — Miska’s former AHL tandem partner from the Tucson Roadrunners and Arizona’s starter Friday night — managed to hold down the fort in the early frame.
Less than two minutes into the second period, though, the Avalanche were finally rewarded for their controlling play when Mikko Rantanen capitalized on a power-play. Poor gap control from Coyotes defender Alex Goligoski, who cheated up towards the wrong side of the ice in the final seconds of an Arizona penalty, left Rantanen wide open at Hill’s back door. The Coyotes starter was able to deny the first shot by Nathan MacKinnon, but Nazem Kadri scooped up the rebound and slid it neatly to the wide-open Rantanen — who was able to score his first goal since January 30th against Minnesota.
The second period would end with Colorado still controlling play, leading in shots 20-10 after 40 minutes and outnumbering the Coyotes in scoring chances 25-8. But the Coyotes would finally wake up during the third period — making for an exciting game on both sides, even if it resulted in a final score that was a bit too close for comfort for the Avs.
Six minutes into the third frame, Andre Burakovsky took advantage of a misplay by Adin Hill — who had remained solid, but was hunkering down more in his net despite his large frame — to put the Avalanche up 2-0. He was followed up by a goal from Nazem Kadri, who truly took advantage of an increasingly shaky Hill to slip a puck in five-hole and widen Colorado’s lead to three tallies.
The Coyotes have played their best hockey in the last week while down by three-goal deficits, though, and the Avalanche underestimated just how consistent they could be in that regard. So with just 1:36 left in the third period, they allowed the Coyotes to finally exert some pressure in the offensive zone — and Phil Kessel was able to capitalize on an egregious misplay by Hunter Miska, who slid ten feet wide of his own net stopping an initial shot, and finally get Arizona on the board.
Less than 30 seconds later, Drake Caggiula would get his first goal as a member of the Coyotes on yet another misplay from Miska, who cheated to stop a shot by his right post and left the other side of his net wide open during a Coyotes empty net 6-on-5. Luckily, that was the last time he would allow Arizona to slip another puck past him — and while the Coyotes tried their best to stage yet another dramatic comeback, they ultimately fell 3-2 in regulation to give Colorado their first win since February 20th.
- The Avalanche likely won the game by virtue of keeping the Coyotes as far away from Hunter Miska as humanly possible; while Miska managed not to completely melt down against the team that inked him fresh off of his collegiate freshman season, he still has yet to record a single game with a .900 save percentage or better. His two late-minute goals against almost forced the Avalanche to be the second straight team — and third straight matchup — to be forced into overtime by the desert dogs. He looked cleaner tonight than he has in the past, but if the Avalanche need to rely on him again he’ll need to show that he’s capable of taking the next step forward.
- Gabriel Landeskog’s tackle of Conor Garland didn’t manage to get him ousted from the game — but the Coyotes have been making a fuss as of late about the number of missed calls that have seemed to come against the undersized, score-happy winger. It’s hard to imagine that the Avalanche’s opponent for the two-game back to back series won’t be letting the league know they’re unhappy — and if the Avalanche try something similar on Saturday, it’s hard to see them getting away with it again.
- It seemed easy to write the Coyotes off when they fell into a 3-0 hole with less than two minutes to go in the third period. But as the Avalanche quickly learned, their opponents seem to play their best hockey this year when facing down a deficit; it’s a stark contrast to how they played during the bubble playoff round, where they seemed to turtle at the prospect of overcoming early goals against. For Colorado, that means holding on tight to their game strategy through a true 60-minute performance on Saturday — because as they learned on Friday, the Coyotes will take advantage of even a minute left on the clock to make things a little bit tougher.
- It was great to see players like Kadri and Burakovsky scoring goals in the win, but it was especially good to see Rantanen finally get on the board after nearly a month without a goal to his name. After starting off the season with 11 points in the first 10 games, he had slowed down a bit and had just four points in the following six games (none of which were goals). Seeing him getting back on the scoreboard, even in a win that seems like it was an easy-ish one, is still refreshing to witness.