That’s all that needs to be said about this one. With a chance to go to the top of the Central Division for the first time since November, the Colorado Avalanche laid down and suffered a 4-2 loss to the hands of their bitter rivals, the Minnesota Wild.
In what was a subpar performance, the Avs fell behind the Wild and could not come back despite their efforts late. It was incredibly frustrating for the majority of the 18,000-plus in attendance for this one and leaves fans pondering what Colorado will do moving forward from this devastating loss.
Things started tumultuously as Valeri Nichushkin had his stick slashed in half and no call was given. It was hoped at the time it wouldn’t be a sign of things to come. But, newcomer Marcus Johansson made sure to take one of the Wild’s chances as he capitalized on an Alexandar Georgiev turnover behind the net to grab the lead.
Then came the overflow of penalties. Bowen Byram was called for hooking when Matt Boldy simply just fell over and was berated with the call as were the fans. But, a Joel Eriksson Ek interference call would cancel it out and Byram made up for his call in a big way after being released out of the box to tie the game.
There was also a Lars Eller high-sticking call in the midst of all of this as well and all the penalties were eventually killed off. It didn’t change the Wild’s momentum though, as Ryan Hartman had a great chance with a nice move which hit the post. Sam Steel wouldn’t miss, however, on a blind backhand shot to get the lead back.
Colorado then turned things up offensively and threw more pucks at the net. The first line in particular with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen had several chances all stopped by Filip Gustavsson to keep the one-goal lead heading into the room.
The Avs didn’t make much of this period. They were stuck in their own defensive zone to start before Darren Helm hit the post on a backhander. The Avs looked like they would have a chance to tie it up when Nichushkin took a dangerous cross-check into the board from Oskar Sundqvist. But, they didn’t do it as Frederick Gaudreau scored shorthanded.
From here, the Wild was a class above Colorado. They were circling around them, especially on a power play where one of the Avs’s best penalty killers, Logan O’Connor, was in the box for tripping. It seemed as if they were going to blow it wide open for the entire hockey world to see.
The first line had their chances, as they were really the only ones skating hard for the Avalanche and creating chances. Sam Girard also had a breakaway late catching Minnesota on a change but it was stopped along with the rebound. It gave a sour end to the period and called for a necessary big turnaround in the third period.
The Avs came flying out of the gate as they looked to get back in it. However, they did have to do it briefly without Andrew Cogliano as he suffered some sort of injury in a hit with Marcus Foligno. But, he would return.
Meanwhile, penalties, or lack thereof, became the norm of the period as they had been throughout the game. Devon Toews drew a hooking call on Jacob Middleton which led to several chances by the first unit but didn’t find twine.
Finally, the Avs would strike and find the net when Toews had a pass/shot deflected by Eller into the back of the net to get them within one with six minutes to go and a prayer to be answered.
They continued to push and kept the Wild on their heels. It also helped when they got away with a clear too many men penalty, but the referees decided for some reason to not call it. The Avs would get a make-up call when a Jared Spurgeon puck out of play actually hit the boards in the final minute.
With the net empty and on a 6-on-4, Colorado and its red-hot power play had a chance to tie it up in a miraculous comeback. But, Gaudreau shot down those dreams real quick with his second shorthanded goal of the net to kill the game off for good.
With the most playoff-like atmosphere and hype around a regular season game since Game 82 against the St. Louis Blues in 2018, the Avs made their bed and laid in it. They started off slow while they let the Wild clog up the nets on both ends to subsequently stop goals and score goals. Their work down low which then allowed their skilled players to work around the outsides suffocated Colorado, specifically in the second period. It left the Avs clueless on how to deal with it and falling behind too far to make any effort of coming back. It also leaves them in third in the Central Division on 94 points, tied with the Dallas Stars and lacking three points behind the Wild.
Looking back on past games for the Avs against superior opponents, it has been rough for them. Since the All-Star Break in February against teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Dallas Stars, they have suffered. They’ve gone 6-6-3 in such games against such opponents. On some nights, they may show up. On others like tonight, they do not. This lack of stability and swings in play will not win the Avs a seven-game series, especially if they play like they did tonight against the Wild. While it’s something to not get too worked up about, I am doing so because the negatives are glaring and need to be addressed immediately by Jared Bednar and his coaching staff. If they play as they did in the third period for all 60 minutes, then it will be a cakewalk against some teams. Otherwise, it might be a short stint in the playoffs for the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
To end this on a more positive note, by far the best player of the night in my opinion was Byram. His goal coming streaking out of the penalty box was special for his 10th of the year (and boldly predicted correctly that he’d hit 10 goals this week by our own Jackie Kay in this week’s edition of the Mile High Hockey Lab!) His effort defensively along with his four shots in over 21 minutes of ice time was special. It shows what he truly can do when he’s healthy. If we get a fully healthy Byram, who knows what he can bring to the table moving forward. It will be special to see him come into his own should he continue to have performances like he did tonight.
From one big game to another, the Avs will host the Dallas Stars Saturday evening in another division rivalry game. They will need to muster up what they can and rebound with a complete performance. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. MT.