For the past couple of months, the Colorado Avalanche have been holding on to some extra games in hand, providing fans with hope that their deficit in the standings could be overcome by these additional games. Those games in hand only help if you win them, and the Avs needed to get at least a point out of tonight’s extra game against the Anaheim Ducks to take the lead over Dallas and Minnesota going into the final three games of the season for all three teams. Against one of the worst teams in the league in Pavel Francouz’s return, it was surely going to be a simple, comfortable game for the Avs ... right?
The Avalanche came out hot to start, winning a very nice 69 percent of expected goals in the first period per Natural Stat Trick, and midway through, J.T. Compher found himself alone at the back post and converted an expected goal into a real one.
The Avs had ample opportunities to increase their lead later in the first, but they found three posts and went into the intermission with just a one-goal lead with what can only be interpreted as an ominous sign from the hockey gods.
Colorado was even more dominant in the (first 15 minutes of the) 2nd, posting their highest Corsi figure of the game (60 percent), and after Mikko Rantanen scored his 53rd goal of the season several minutes in, it looked like the Avs were about to put this game on cruise control.
But alas, there is a reason why I put (first 15 minutes) in that first paragraph, and it’s because despite continuing to lose the Corsi and expected goals battle, Anaheim put two in the back of the net in what felt like the blink of an eye, beginning with a heat-seeking missile courtesy of Frank Vatrano.
Less than three minutes later, Rantanen and Toews turned the puck over at their own blue line and sprung Adam Henrique loose.
The end of the second was a prelude to the shock that would arrive five minutes into the third, as UMass legend Frank Vatrano slipped free of Sam Girard and put the Avs on the wrong side of the scoreboard with his second of the night.
Less than two minutes later, Brett Leason found some room in front of the net and an awkward ricochet went off Sam Girard and through Pavel Francouz to take Colorado from up two to down two in less than 13 minutes of game-time.
This led to an uptick in the Avs's play and all of a sudden they were winning seemingly every battle in the corner, with Valeri Nichushkin just completely smothering several Ducks and creating multiple grade-A chances in front of the net. Anaheim began to chase the game, and that’s when teams take penalties. The Avs were presented with a near must-score situation with about eight minutes left in the game, and Rantanen used this moment to tie Joe Sakic’s single-season Avalanche goal record.
Anaheim took five penalties in the last twelve minutes of the third period and overtime, and a few minutes after Mikko showed the Ducks why you don’t put the Avs on the power play, Nathan MacKinnon really drove home the point.
Despite controlling the puck for practically the entire last few minutes, the Avs couldn’t sneak one more past Lukas Dostal (who has a credible case to be tonight’s no. 1 star of the game), and the teams went to overtime where the Ducks yet again did that thing that they really shouldn’t do.
Nathan MacKinnon is a bad, bad man.
The Avs controlled this game nearly from start to finish, save for that stretch in the middle where they let it completely go off the rails and get away from them. They out-shot Anaheim 46-23, created 65 percent of expected goals at 5-on-5, and won the Corsi battle 59% to 41%. Colorado lived in the middle of the offensive zone tonight, and that’s why the fancy stats look so fancy.
There is a lot of noise around this team right now from the talk radio sphere about whether they are “ready” for this playoff run, but games like tonight and last night’s in Los Angeles demonstrate that they are ready because they believe in their proven system and will keep grinding no matter how bleak it may look. If you give elite players like MacKinnon and Rantanen grade-A opportunities, eventually they will cash those in. The playoffs are a lot more random than any of us sports fans are willing to admit, and the Avs have as good of a chance as anyone to win the Stanley Cup because their best players are better than everyone else’s best players, except for one team with a player having the greatest season in decades ...
The Avalanche get a day off before coming home to face hockey gods Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. MT. It will be Colorado’s third game in four nights while Edmonton will be coming off of three days' rest (six days if you count their 6-1 win over San Jose).