I’m not sure anyone could have written this game better if they had tried. There was a dramatic three-goal comeback, the stars shined, both goalies committed grand larceny, and Mikko Rantanen got a hat trick in his home country of Finland. And in the end, the Colorado Avalanche walked out of their first game at Nokia Arena in Tempere, Finland with a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Avalanche wasted no time getting used to playing on foreign ice. A minute and thirty-six seconds into the contest Logan O’Connor buried a beautiful pass from Alex Newhook over Elvis Merzlikins’ glove, putting the Avs up 1-0 early.
About ten minutes later the Avs would get a bit of a scare when Vladislav Gavrikov laid a hit on Andrew Cogliano that kept him on the ice for a few minutes. Gavrikov received a penalty on the play for interference and the Avs converted on the ensuing power play. The first unit had their fair share of chances, but it was the abnormal second unit that actually cashed in. The goal was courtesy of J.T. Compher, who scored his first of the year after he beautifully tipped a Devon Toews shot.
The Avalance dominated the first twenty minutes and started hot in the second period when Mikko Rantanen scored his first of three on the day. Mikko did something we have seen him do many times before, he took his time and waited for Merzlinkins to bite. Mikko’s patience paid off and he buried the puck in from a sharp angle to give the Avs a 3-0 lead.
A 3-0 lead, eh? Wasn’t it just last week the Avs squandered a 3-0 lead? It was, and it wouldn’t be the only time. The Blue Jackets got their first of the game courtesy of Jakub Voracek on the power play. Voracek made a perfect tip on a Patrik Laine shot from the point that made it 3-1.
Just six minutes later, the aforementioned Patrik Laine scored a goal of his own on a delayed penalty. Laine found himself with a clear lane to the net and fired a shot through Alexander Georgiev’s five-hole. Laine, who is from Tempere, got a huge cheer from the crowd when he buried his first goal in his hometown, making the score 3-2.
The rest of the second period was dominated by special teams' play, with neither team being able to get a leg up on the other. Elvis Merzlinkins did make the save of the game when he robbed Andrew Cogliano of a short-handed goal. Evan Rodrigues gave Cogliano a pass right on the money on the two-on-one, and Cogliano placed the shot pretty well, but Merzlinkins still made the save.
It seemed as though the Avs had gotten things back under control after the Laine goal, but they couldn’t hold, what is now, the most dangerous lead in hockey.
Just two minutes and thirty seconds into the final frame of the game the Blue Jackets got a clutch fourth-line goal to tie the game. The Avs had a bit of a breakdown in their own zone and Sean Kuraly was able to capitalize to tie the game at 3-3.
As we’ve seen from this Avs team, they learn from their mistakes. Seldom do they make the same mistake twice. Today was no exception. Six minutes and one double minor penalty kill later, the Avalanche regained the lead on a goal from who else but Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen fired home a classic Mikko one-timer, on the power play, to give the Avs a one-goal lead.
Rantanen’s goal opened the dam for the Avalanche. After his second goal of the game the Avs had this game firmly in their control, but another goal couldn’t hurt. Cale Makar knew that and buried his first of the year on a nice backhand feed from Nathan MacKinnon to give the Avs their insurance goal.
Following the Makar goal, the Avs had effectively parked the bus, and not much happened before the Blue Jackets pulled their goalie. Mikko Rantanen, who had been hungry for that hat trick the whole third period, was finally able to get his wish after a frantic effort from Nathan MacKinnon. Mikko buried his third attempt at the empty net and completed the hat trick to give the Avs a 6-3 win.
These Global Series games are always weird, and the lineup uncertainty that led all the way up to warmups made it even weirder.
All in all, it was a pretty even game, but I thought the Avs were the better team. They were consistently getting pressure in the Blue Jackets zone at 5-on-5 and kept Columbus out of dangerous areas for the most part. The Avalance really needs to start performing more consistently from period to period. In every game so far this season they’ve had one period where they just weren’t good enough. It was the second period today, granted they spent a lot of that period on the penalty kill.
I have a hard time pointing out any Avs players who truly didn’t do well today. I think Sam Girard had some unfortunate moments, the Blue Jackets' third goal being the biggest one. Bowen Byram didn’t have his best game. He had some odd puck decisions and makes some shots far too easy for goalies to save.
There were a handful of standouts today for the Avs. The most obvious was Mikko Rantanen, who had a hat trick tonight. His linemates shined as well. Evan Rodrigues and Nathan MacKinnon were dangerous and effective all night. I wasn’t a fan of MacKinnon’s effort on his cross-checking penalty, but it was still not deserving of a call. The unsportsmanlike conduct is a whole different story.
Cale Makar and Devon Toews again shined. I was really impressed with Makar’s play in all three zones. He was controlling the play in the offensive zone, darting through the neutral zone, and breaking up passes and shots in the defensive. This is a good sign of things to come for the reigning Norris winner.
Martin Kaut, J.T. Compher, and Logan O’Connor are all worth mentioning as well. They were the Avs' most consistent players tonight effort-wise, and they all did a good job pushing play and being dangerous offensively. Compher and O’Connor were rewarded for their play with goals, but Kaut got a bit unlucky today. He’s due for one soon.
That’s all for me today. Make sure you check back to Mile High Hockey tomorrow for coverage of the second half of the Global Series in Finland with puck drop at noon MT. Näkemiin.