The Colorado Avalanche ride another stellar performance from Philipp Grubauer to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues to end their six game homestand with five wins and points in all six contests.
Grubauer would get goals from Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar to ensure the Avalanche would get a few more days to sit top of the Honda West standings. The victory would also extend the Avalanche point streak to 14 games.
Big Valeri Nichushkin was back in the lineup for Colorado, sending Kiefer Sherwood back to the scratched list for tonight’s contest. Still no further updates, per Avalanche standard procedure, on the timetables for Bowen Byram, Logan O’Connor or Matt Calvert to return to the lineup.
Not that injuries have stopped the Avalanche. Winners of three straight and owners of a 13-game point streak, the Avalanche lead the league in most categories coming into this evening. In their quest for a fourth straight win, the Avalanche turned to number one goaltender Grubauer after his night off. With a victory, the Avalanche would close out their six game homestand with a 5-0-1 record and keep a firm grasp on the top seed in the Honda West division.
The Blues turned to backup goalie Ville Husso. His only previous exposure to the Avalanche was in relief of starter Jordan Binnington in the 8-0 demolition of St. Louis back in the second game of this season.
The Blues would come out of the locker room with a much better game plan and more intensity than in yesterday’s contest and test Grubauer early. St. Louis would take the first seven shots of the game before Colorado would notch their first. This would take nearly 7 minutes of play.
Husso would be tested soon thereafter, making multiple stops in a scrum in front of his net to keep the game scoreless.
Mikko Rantanen would have a golden opportunity to open the scoresheet for the game, getting a breakaway on Husso thanks to an outstanding breakout pass from MacKinnon. However, Rantanen would scoop his backhanded attempt high over the crossbar, keeping the Avalanche off the scoreboard with half the period gone.
On the ensuing run of play Andre Burakovsky would draw a tripping call against Tyler Bozak, putting the Avalanche on the power play for the first time. A strong kill from the Blues would prevent Colorado from establishing any offense and generate a short-handed chance before returning to even strength.
It wouldn’t be long after returning to five-on-five that MacKinnon would strike. He would accelerate to the circle and unleash a wicked wrist shot that would ping the post and into the net to open the scoring for the game. The goal would be MacKinnon’s 13th of the season.
MacKinnon would generate another scoring chance shortly after his goal, setting up Landeskog with a fantastic pass into the slot. The Blues Brayden Schenn would prevent the chance by slashing Landeskog’s stick in half, putting Colorado on their second power play of the contest.
Husso would star on the penalty kill, robbing Donskoi and keeping the puck out of his net despite a scramble in front of his net that would eventually see Landeskog head to the box for retaliating against Jake Walman and getting called for roughing.
The Avalanche would kill the penalty, relying on two last ditch clearances off the goal line to keep the game in favor of Colorado. As Landeskog got out of the penalty box, a huge, chaotic play would develop in Grubauer’s crease - eventually ending in a Ryan O’Reilly rebound goal.
An ugly goal would end an even period with the score knotted at one. St. Louis played considerably better in the first period tonight than at any point in their loss to Colorado the night before. Shots were very close, with the Avalanche taking 14 to the Blues 13.
The Avalanche would quickly find themselves on the back foot, with Devon Toews tipping a puck into the stands early in the period to put Colorado on the penalty kill. Grubauer would make a good stop on David Perron and prevent the Blues from scoring with their only real scoring chance on the ensuing power play.
Goaltending would highlight most of the period, with Grubauer and Husso trading saves throughout most of the period to keep the game knotted at one throughout. One exciting exchange saw Grubauer run over by Jaden Schwartz to draw an interference call, and as the referee was skating to announce, a fight breaks out. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Todd Bortuzzo would start the festivities, but soon Liam O’Brien would take over for Bellemare and a quick scrap that was quickly broken up would put both O’Brien and Bortuzzo out for five.
The Avalanche would get a massive chance on the following power play, with Justin Faulk going to the box for tripping to give the Avalanche 1:13 of five on three. Unfortunately, Colorado would not score with the two-man advantage, or a man up with a poor power play. Husso would also play a role, making multiple key saves throughout the period, both on the penalty kill and even strength. He would end the period making consecutive huge saves on Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi to close out all even at one.
The final frame starts off with some strong play from the Jost-Nichushkin-Donskoi line, a common sight throughout the evening. While it’s unclear why Nichushkin missed the previous contest, he sure made up for lost time with a strong two-way performance in tonight’s game.
The final frame was pretty uneventful, outside of a nice play from Kadri to create a chance for himself that ended with him slamming into Husso and leaving the Avalanche short handed in a tie game. The penalty kill would make that penalty disappear with another strong performance, holding the Blues without a goal in three tries with the man advantage.
Both goaltenders would do their best to send the game into overtime with both Husso and Grubauer making save after save. The game would remain tied deep into regulation before Makar would send the home fans home happy, firing a seeing eye wrist shot through traffic to score with 40 seconds left on the clock.
The Blues would pull Husso with 20 seconds to play, but it wouldn’t be enough time for St. Louis to set up a chance and the Makar goal would prove the difference. Colorado would end the homestand 5-0-1 and, with Minnesota toppling Vegas, a four point cushion atop the division headed into a road trip to Minnesota.
Shots - COL 34 STL 28
FO% - COL 52 STL 48
PP - COL 0/4 STL 0/3
Hits - COL 6 STL 18
Blocks - COL 7 STL 14
Grubauer is Vezina worthy. The offense was not clicking, the opposing goaltender was playing great and neither ended up mattering as Grubauer was lights out once again. The Avalanche goaltender won his 23rd game of the season (best in the NHL) and reduced his tiny goals against average even further below two. In a tight contest, the Avalanche goaltender was the difference - a great sign for playoff hockey.
The Avalanche won a tight contest where they didn’t have their best. This is “what championship teams do”. Whether or not you believe in that saying, teams that find ways to win without their A-game usually make noise come postseason. The hope is that this Avalanche team is one of those loud teams at seasons’ end. With Grubauer and the defense playing like this, I’m guessing they will.
The Avalanche (25-8-4; 54 points) will hit the road to take on the Minnesota Wild (23-11-2; 48 points), coming off a sweep of the Vegas Golden Knights in a two game set. Minnesota has played well lately, going 6-3-1 in their last ten games; however the last time a hot Wild team ran into the Avalanche, they ended up leaving the series with a cold wind at their backs. Hopefully Colorado will duplicate that effort in this series before travelling to Anaheim for a two game set with the Ducks.