Tuesday night was one of those tough losses for the Colorado Avalanche which could end up making a difference down the line. After coming back from a 3-1 deficit to the New Jersey Devils, a late winner in the final two minutes plus an empty netter was enough to steal a 5-3 win on home ice.
The Avs started well, but had a slump in the middle of the game, along with an uproar and collapse in the third period. While it looked as though they were going to at least get one point out of this game, it turned out to be not.
The Avs came out hot and made sure to capitalize on their momentum. Johnathan Drouin forced a turnover in their offensive zone, leading to Mikko Rantanen wristing one home for the early lead.
But the lead would not last long. Just 42 seconds later, Chris Tierney would deflect a Simon Nemec shot behind Justus Annunen to even it up.
This would lead the Devils to grow more into the game. While the Avs led in shots 10-3 at the halfway point, New Jersey had their chances. The best ones came with Jesper Bratt on a breakaway, plus some wraparound chances in the closing minutes. Annunen was up to the task though to keep the score even heading into the room.
Josh Manson got an early goal for the Avs just 38 seconds in with the puck coming to him at the top of the slot. But it would be challenged and called back for goaltender interference by Logan O’Connor.
This swung momentum in New Jersey’s favor, and they took full advantage. Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischer connected on a great passing play on a 2-on-1 to take the 2-1 lead moments after the disallowed goal.
Bratt and Nico just doing All-Star things. pic.twitter.com/DFeiACwwx3— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 7, 2024
Minutes later, Dawson Mercer would get in on the fun. Annunen couldn’t control the puck, with it leaking out of his side to an open Mercer into an open net to double the lead.
Can’t be leaving scraps on the table. Dawg's gonna eat. pic.twitter.com/PZOm2gO460— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 7, 2024
To make matters worse, the Avs couldn’t take advantage of special teams on both sides. Ross Colton took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty right after the third goal, which Colorado just managed to kill off. It was all part of a lackluster performance from the Avs.
They couldn’t do anything with a late powerplay either and had to hold off the Devils again on a late Artturi Lehkonen holding penalty right afterward. The Avs had a big hole to dig themselves out of down two heading into the final 20 minutes.
The Avs started the period off really well, putting lots of shots on Vanecek. This included Ryan Johansen drawing a holding penalty to create more chances, but they didn’t get any pucks into the net.
Ross Colton and Kevin Bahl would be called for roughing each other up in a little scrum, which looked to perhaps halt the Avs offense. But it did the opposite. The open ice led to two goals in 29 seconds, both from defenseman: Cale Makar and Sam Girard.
Now evened up at three, the Avs were alive and a much different team than the rest of the game. They pushed on, looking for a late winner. Nathan MacKinnon thought he had it on a breakaway, but it was miraculously stopped by Vanecek.
It would be a game-changing save for the Devils. Against the run of play, the Devils on their fourth shot of the period would capitalize. Defenseman John Marino found enough room in front with the Avs defense asleep to go five-hole on Annunen to grab a late lead.
The Avs would pull their netminder late, looking to keep up their momentum before the go-ahead goal. It would backfire, as they couldn’t find the twine and Erik Haula finished the game off with an empty netter to seal a 5-3 win for New Jersey.
What a roller coaster of a game for the Avalanche. They started off hot, leading the game in shots 10-3 at one point in the first period. But then they fell off in the middle portion of the game, with New Jersey seemingly pulling away. An uproar of offense in the final frame to come back was impressive, and they just couldn’t find a late winner. Instead, it was a lapse on defense which ended up making the difference for Colorado. Consistency hasn’t been the name of the game for the Avs coming out of the break, and the season-long road trip is not off to a good start.
Annunen’s appearance in the net was okay at best as well. With a lot of eyes on him seeing how he’ll do as the presumed backup for the time being, there wasn't much he could do on the first two Devils goals. The third goal he might want back, as the puck went through his body and sat in the crease for Mercer to put home. Finally, the fourth goal went five-hole on him on a one-time shot, but a nice save late there might’ve made a difference. It did at the other end anyway.
As mentioned earlier, the season-long road trip did not get off to the start Avs fans wanted. 0-1-1 right out of the gate after a long break is not ideal, you’d like to have won at least one of the two games on this back-to-back with the Rangers and Devils. It’s not getting much easier going forward, so every point counts. The dropped point(s) tonight will only help the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets keep up with them for the top of a very tight Central Division. With the Jets losing and the Stars winning Tuesday night, Dallas is now tied for first with one game in hand with Colorado, and Winnipeg is three points behind.
The road trip continues, with the middle game of the six-game swing coming Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Puck drop is at 5:00 p.m. MT.