Looking to avenge the embarrassing 8-3 loss a month ago in Toronto the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs in hopes of building on their three-game win streak and continue to climb up the Western Conference standings. It wasn’t pretty and took longer than 60 minutes but the Avalanche worked themselves out of a hole and eventually finished on top with two points and a 5-4 victory.
The first period unfortunately looked a lot like the disaster in Toronto. The Avalanche could not keep control of the puck and gave Toronto multiple chances which they then finally capitalized on.
Old friend Alexander Kerfoot got the Leafs on the board at 7:54 in which he was left uncovered by a sliding Erik Johnson. It wasn’t long Auston Matthews had his fun again with two goals 20 seconds apart starting at 14:17 and the rout was on. Panel Francouz entered the game for Darcy Kuemper at this point but it was more a wake up call to the Avalanche and less about his play on the goals.
Near the end of the period at least Nathan MacKinnon managed to get one back at 17:11. It is good to see MacKinnon find his shot again and see some pucks go in the back of the net. Plus he needed to make up for some earlier defensive miscues, although the whole team contributed to those as well.
The second period was more encouraging to start but the old penalty kill woes cropped up again as the Avalanche conceded another score to Nick Ritchie and found themselves in a three-goal hole again. The home team slowly started making progress getting the forecheck going and if any sort of physicality turned the tide it was Bowen Byram mixing it up with fellow rookie Michael Bunting several times after the whistle. Shortly after Cale Makar scored his 15th goal of the season to give the Avalanche life heading into the third period.
While the final frame could have been described as garbage time dictated by score effects still down 4-2 the Avalanche showed a greater sense of urgency and kept working at it. After an incredible diving save from Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell on Devon Toews it was Gabe Landeskog who managed to tip the puck in air and just past Campbell at 10:06 for the third Avalanche goal. The play was started by a great pass to Landeskog at the net front by Byram before a couple rebounds eventually found the goal scorer again.
Finally a little luck smiled on the Avalanche on the game equalizer when J.T. Compher found a slick pass from Mikko Rantanen at the right time and beat Campbell short side just two minutes later. After looking dead in the water through the first half the Avalanche were suddenly in a position to win this game and had piled up 49 shots on goal in the process.
The Avalanche made quick use of overtime just over a minute in and it was another goal from a defenseman who decided the game as Devon Toews placed a shot perfectly though the five-hole and completed the comeback victory in a thrilling 5-4 final.
Mikko Rantanen quietly had a four point night with all assists. He didn’t have any obvious big plays like breakaways which are easy to recall but he was making a lot of smart plays and passes which ended up in goals from his teammates. He leads the team in goals with 16 and is now second in points with 40.
This was Pavel Francouz’s first win since 2020 and he deserved every bit of it after shutting the door and made 18 saves following the power play goal he conceded. His best save of the night was in overtime to deny a shot close in tight to the net. With three back-to-backs in the next 10 days Francouz should see a fair amount of work and prove himself to be just as strong of an option in net as Kuemper.
As fun as all the scoring has been what has been lost especially in the national media narratives is how the Avalanche don’t simply try to play track meet hockey. Their defending has been more of a work-in-progress than last season but this epic comeback and the actual four comebacks this week show that the Avalanche are becoming more comfortable with deficits and can execute their offense in multiple situations, which should bode well for the playoffs.
The first game of a back-to-back starts at home on Monday night at 7 p.m. MT when the Seattle Kraken come to town for the first time in franchise history. It also sees the return of Philipp Grubauer and Joonas Donskoi to the Mile High City since their departures.