The Colorado Avalanche take a commanding two games to none series lead over the Vegas Golden Knights, despite putting in a performance to forget. Phillip Grubauer was incredible, stopping 39 of 41 shots as Mikko Rantanen iced the game in overtime with a power play goal into the top netting.
The Avalanche were uncharacteristically error prone this evening; having eight giveaways and allowing multiple one on one chances for Vegas. Thankfully Grubauer was up to the task and stole a critical matchup before the series shifts to the desert.
Minutes into the game, Brandon Saad opened the scoring on a fortunate shot off a breakaway. Sam Girard started the play in the defensive zone with a three-line pass up to Saad who had split the defense. As he came in, his stick was obstructed just at the last minute, forcing his shot to slide across the ice. Luckily, it went right through Vezina-nominee Marc-Andre Fleury’s five-hole and in for the game’s opening goal. Ryan Graves got the second assist for the goal.
Nicolas Hague hauled down Valeri Nichushkin after he had gotten around the defenseman driving to the net. Hague was giving two minutes for holding, sending the Avalanche to the power play. Joonas Donskoi took a shot in the first half of the man advantage, but the Golden Knight quickly cleared and killed off time. The second unit came on and Girard connected with JT Compher for a rebound chance in front of the net, but the Golden Knights collapsed in front of the net and Fleury kept his foot on the post.
Alex Newhook then got called for his own holding penalty seconds after the first penalty was killed off. With the power play set up, Alec Martinez scored from the wing to tie the game. The shot wasn’t very impressive, but the pass from Max Pacioretty fooled everyone, including Grubauer. The goalie had made a dive across, but the shot low to the ice somehow found a hole. A tough break, but one that had been reciprocated earlier with the Saad goal.
What’s with all the holding penalties? Pacioretty got his own holding penalty a few minutes after that. It sent the Avs to the power play, which unfortunately they didn’t score on either. They had some better shots, all from the front of the net, so the goal will come soon.
Another penalty! This one to Jonathan Marchessault for hauling down Nathan MacKinnon, who forced the penalty with an exceptional cut into the middle of the ice. Mac looked like he dove as his hand flung up into the air, but the trip was already there and running into a stick doesn’t count as diving.
And on that power play, Tyson Jost reclaims the lead! Girard earns his second assist of the night after coming down the wing and finding Jost alone in the middle of the slot. It wasn’t his best shot, but it found a hole through the maze of stick to beat Fleury. It was definitely “one of those” nights.
Another penalty! This time Shea Theodore for shooting the puck over the glass after getting pressured into the corner off the draw by MacKinnon. The first unit had a flurry of chances from the left with Rantanen all over the side of the net, but somehow nothing found its way in.
It was a low event period at 5v5 just because there were almost 10 minutes of power plays in the game. The Avs had four chances, scoring on one, while the Golden Knights scored on their lone chance. With all the special teams, the Avs youngsters haven’t gotten any more than a couple shifts each. The penalty didn’t help Newhook.
The Golden Knights jumped out of the gate looking to take the game to Colorado. Grubauer made an extended series of great saves; utilizing stellar position to kill the puck and deny Vegas any chance at rebounds. The Avalanche would relieve pressure slightly, with Saad generating a chance that was preceded by a strong shift from the top line was short lived.
Reilly Smith is left uncovered (after one of the numerous giveaways by Avalanche defenders throughout the period) by Ryan Graves, who blows his assignment and Smith beats Grubauer with a nice deke into a backhand.
The Avalanche netminder might want another crack at that chance after watching the tape, but Vegas probably deserved a goal with how poorly Colorado was playing in its own zone.
Colorado responds with a nice sustained cycle that results in absolutely no pressure on Fleury before Patrik Nemeth takes an exceptionally poorly timed slashing penalty to put Vegas on the power play with a chance to take their first lead of the series. Nichushskin and Girard stood out on a crucial penalty kill effort to keep the game knotted at two.
The score would stay even at the conclusion of the period, but not before the Avalanche gifted a few more chances to the Golden Knights with turnovers. One such chance nearly resulted in a Marchessault goal; with only a slight deflection off Grubauer’s glove steering the puck off the crossbar and wide.
This was not a good period for Colorado. In what was likely the single worst period of the playoffs for the Avalanche so far, Grubauer ensured that a sloppy period of play wouldn’t put the team in a hole. The Vezina-award nominee put on a show in the period, stopping 15 shots. Multiple defensive zone giveaways and no real cohesion on offense led to Colorado getting outshot 16-6 in the period. For a team that made its money during the second period all season, this was a shock to watch unfold.
Faceoffs are also proving to be a problem for the Avalanche tonight, with Vegas absolutely dominating the dot (63%) through two.
Another period that Colorado came out of the locker room about a half step behind Vegas. Smith rang another post, as Grubauer was under siege for the first 90 seconds of the period, forced to make five rapid-fire saves before freezing the puck. Soon thereafter, Grubauer is forced to make another sensational save, this time denying Pacioretty on a breakaway.
This was in sharp contrast to the literal nothing that Fleury had to contend with for the first nearly ten minutes of the period. The first “shot” on goal was a blue line flip that hit Fleury straight in the logo of his sweater. The first real shot didn’t occur until over eight minutes had ticked off the clock in the period.
When he was called into action, Fleury kept Colorado off the scoreboard as well. After denying MacKinnon on a good chance, the Vegas goaltender shut down the Avalanche power play; earned after Tuch went to the sin bin for a slash. The first unit was strong, generating multiple chances on the Vegas net, before the second unit gave up a big short-hand chance. Immediately as the penalty ended, Tuch raced out of the box for a one on one with Grubauer that was shut down with a big save.
After nearly a full game of referring not being brought up, the zebras decided they wanted to enter the discussion. After missing a crosscheck to the face of Landeskog that ended with the captain sporting a bloody nose and a blatant trip in the neutral zone on Burakovsky the Avalanche went on the penalty kill with Toews tripping Pietrangelo. The Ball Arena crowd and Landeskog himself let their displeasure be known to the referee crew after the call, but it wouldn’t prevent the Vegas power play.
Enter Grubauer, once again, to save the day. There’s a reason he’s a Vezina award nominee and he was IMMENSE on the penalty kill to prevent the Golden Knights from potting a winner late in the third.
To overtime we go.
After the Third
Thank Grubauer that this game isn’t over and we’re looking at an even series. For the first time this season the Avalanche give up over 40 shots on goal and Grubauer has been more than up to the task. The offense, on the other hand, has been uncharacteristically stifled -only managing 23 shots through three.
The Avalanche were slightly better in the third, but still vastly outplayed by Vegas in the period. The first line was starting to generate chances towards the end of the frame. Hopefully this will translate into an early goal in overtime to secure the victory for Colorado.
The overtime period started much like the second and third periods; with the Avalanche on their back skate and absorbing Vegas pressure.
Just before Smith relieved the pressure for Colorado by taking a slashing penalty off a faceoff.
Then this happened.
Powerplay goal, Rantanen buries it top shelf off assists from MacKinnon and Makar. It couldn’t have ended any more perfectly.
Colorado is lucky to be leaving Ball Arena with a 2-0 series advantage. The Avalanche were thoroughly outplayed in the second and third period and, if not for Grubauer putting in a masterful performance between the pipes, would have been heading to Las Vegas with an even series.
Let’s talk some more about how amazing Grubauer was tonight. Not only did he stop 39 of 41 shots faced, the Avalanche netminder also stonewalled a number of breakaways and cleaned up a lot of sloppy turnovers for the defense. Common theory stated that Grubauer would need to steal a game for Colorado to win this series - there’s your steal.
As far as non-Grubauer Avalanche players, they weren’t so good. Outside of Saad, who played great, and the two power play goals, Colorado looked a step slow at even strength tonight. The extra day rest seemed to do wonders for Vegas and unless Grubauer has another performance like tonight, the Avalanche need to be MUCH better on the road to take this series.
Shots: COL 25 - VGK 41
Faceoff %: COL 44 - VGK 56
Powerplay: COL 2/6 - VGK 1/3
PIM: COL 6 - VGK 12
Hits: COL 22 - VGK 21
Blocked Shots: COL 17 - VGK 28
Giveaways: COL 8 - VGK 3
The series will shift to Las Vegas with Colorado up two games. The next game will take place Friday at 8pm MT. Grubauer and Fleury will likely matchup again in game three.