Earlier this week the Colorado Avalanche had to scrape and claw one point out of a high-octane matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, right before flying to Minnesota to face the Wild on the second game of a back-to-back. This time the Avs wanted to make lives easier on themselves. They dominated a fast-falling St. Louis Blues team and cruised to a 4-1 victory in what will likely be the last time these two teams faceoff this season.
Right from the jump this game was all Avalanche. Through the first 15 minutes of this hockey game, the Avs were heavily outshooting and out-chancing the St. Louis Blues. Yet, similar to every time these two teams play, Jordan Binnington was standing on his head to keep his team in the game. He did so successfully. That was until Nathan MacKinnon skated circles around the Blues zone for almost a minute. Mikko Rantanen gave his center some help by executing a pick-and-roll play to perfection at the top of the zone. It gave him and MacKinnon enough time and space for MacKinnon to feed Rantanen for a one-timer. Rantanen buried it to not only give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead, but it was his 200th goal.
The first period coming to a close didn’t cease Colorado’s domination. They hounded the Blues in the second period. Jordan Binnington was standing on his head to keep this a one-goal game, but after so much continued domination by the Avalanche, he got beat by a bit of a softy. Bowen Byram carried the puck into the zone on a two on two and before he could even pretend to give the puck off he ripped it low glove to extend the Avs's lead.
The Avalanche needed that goal to help shield them from what happened eight minutes later. Sam Girard gained control of the puck in his own zone and made a great read to tray and spring Nathan MacKinnon. He tried to send a bank pass to the bursting MacKinnon but the Blues jumped a change early, got the puck, and turned it up ice. A good pass from Jordan Kyrou found Sammy Blais wide-open on the back door, who scored to cut the Avs lead in half. This unfortunate turn of events really gave the Blues some momentum and put the Avalanche on their heels in the final minutes of the second period.
What’s the best way to stop momentum and stomp a comeback all in one? An insurance goal. The Avalanche got an insurance goal soon into the third period and it couldn’t have come from a guy who needed it more. After not having scored in his past seven games Val Nichushkin needed some good fortune to get on track (the train track). A great pass from Arturri Lehkonen hit Nichushkin in the skate before he could even react, but fortunately for him, it went into the back of the net to break his skid and give the Avalanche another two-goal lead.
It feels like games against the Blues are never truly over until they’re over. Anyone who has watched these two play each other would attest to that. But with a game tomorrow against a tough Edmonton Oilers team the Avs wanted to make sure they didn’t have to scrape this one out. About halfway into the third, the Avalanche's second powerplay unit rolled on the ice and had a chance to really put the game out of reach for a depleted Blues team. Bowen Byram took that chance and slammed it home past the glove of Binnington on a shot that was almost identical to Rantanen’s goal.
With that goal, the game felt pretty over. Both teams knew they had to hit the road once the final buzzer sounded to get to their respective destinations for games tomorrow, and they played like it. In the final ten minutes, both teams went through the motions with little drama, a signal of the changing of the tides for the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions.
Really quick I want to touch on the status of Cale Makar, who briefly went down the tunnel following a weird collision with Alexei Toropchenko. It seems that his injury was more nose related than anything head related, a good sign seeing as he’d just come back from a concussion. According to Makar, he expects to play tomorrow against Edmonton.
This game was just good for the Avalanche. Everyone on the team was good today, some more or less than others, but all were still good.
MacKinnon and Rantanen strutted their superstar stuff today. Both were skating and dancing all over the Blues and both got points to show for it. We saw MacKinnon dominate against the Wild on Wednesday, but Rantanen was much more disappointing. Before today he hadn’t scored a goal or looked like himself since coming back from the All-Star break. This was a much more moose-like game, and it’s about time he finally got his 200th goal.
Byram has shown little to no signs of rust since returning from his multi-month absence from the team. He was racking up points and getting oh-so-close to scoring some goals of his own before today. It felt like the dam broke for him a bit in this game. He was electric offensively and was impacting the game in every area of the ice and got rewarded for it with two beautiful goals.
Finally, Justus Annunen. There were some other great performances for the Avalanche tonight, but this was an incredibly encouraging game from the Avs' top goalie prospect. Annunen didn’t have to face much, something I’m sure he’s not used to in the AHL, but the Blues had some chances from the home plate area. Multiple times Annunen had to challenge a shooter less than ten feet in front of him, and every time he made the stop. He looked very calm and composed and earned his win. He honestly should’ve had a shutout but the Blues got away with a too many men on the ice penalty that led directly to their only goal of the game.
The Avs take on the Edmonton Oilers at home tomorrow in another matinee game at 1:00 p.m. MT. Yet again they will be facing a rested team after playing the night before. They have a big chance to sweep this back-to-back against another team looking for revenge from the 2022 playoffs. Mile High Hockey will have you covered.