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Avs beat Wild, lose Kuemper in thrilling shootout

Jesse Montano Avatar
January 18, 2022

Whew. Ok. That one was a doozy.

The MLK Day matinee saw the Colorado Avalanche win what turned out to be a throwback Avs-Wild rivalry game by outlasting the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in a shootout.

The story of today should be that we saw a really fun, classic hockey game between two teams that have a history of really not liking each other. It’s such a timeless hockey matchup. No, I’m not saying the Avs against the Wild is “timeless”, but the matchup of the two teams out to prove two different things.

One, the Wild, is out to prove that they belong in the conversation with the best teams in the league. That they are skilled enough, fast enough, and talented enough to beat any team in any given game. Every hockey player has played that game. In your locker room, you feel that you’re just as good, but you have to go prove it. It’s a fun game to play, it’s also an emotional game to play, and you need a lot of things to go right.

The other, the Avalanche, is basically out to prove that the Wild don’t belong in the same tier that they’re in. On paper, the Avs are the better team every day of the week. In fact, the Avs have one of the best rosters, on paper, in the entire NHL, but when that’s the case, you have a target on your back every single night, and you have to bring your best every game.

We should be talking about how the Avalanche looked like they were maybe going to run away with the game early. Nathan MacKinnon had one of his best periods of hockey we’ve seen from him this season. He was everywhere, he put two pucks on net himself, rang one off the post, picked up an assist on Mikko Rantanen’s power-play goal, and just looked to be a clear step ahead of everyone else on the ice.

After Rantanen’s 5-on-3 tally, it was Alex Newhook, who continues to show flashes of high-level play, that whipped a one-timer past Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen to put the Avs up by a pair. 

Those two got past Kahkonen, but it realistically could’ve been 4-0, or even 5-0 in the first period if not for the Wild netminder. He made several dazzling saves to help his team weather the storm when the Avalanche were absolutely pouring it on during the first 20  minutes.

I should be focusing on the fact that the game took on a whole new feel when Minnesota struck less than a minute into the middle frame. Kevin Fiala made a nice move across the crease and put one in to cut the lead in half. 

You could feel the ice shift from being tilted towards the Wild net, to being perfectly level, and you knew these teams were about to grind one out. 

It was a really fun, intense second half of the game, and we’re gonna talk about, and everything that I’ve said so far is true, and it *should* be the story of this game. What occurred just before the 9:00 mark of the second period, however, is the big-picture takeaway from this game for the Avalanche.

With 11:09 left in the second period, Minnesota winger Jordan Greenway flashed through the crease, clipping Avs goaltender Darcy Kuemper up high in the process.

Things happen fast in real-time, so I suppose I was fine with it not being called a hit to the head on the ice, but if you ask me, it looked pretty intentional. Greenway wasn’t pushed or leaned on, and sure appeared to lean into the contact. I hope the league takes a look because I don’t see how that’s any different from maliciously hitting a player who’s in a vulnerable position.

The official made a call immediately for goaltender interference, and Kurtis MacDermid made Greenway answer to him, and that didn’t look like it was much fun. Kuemper stayed down for a meant, then spent about a minute talking with trainers before deciding to stay in the game. 

It looked like the crisis had been averted. 

At the next stoppage of play, a referee came down to Kuemper’s net and informed him he was being pulled off the ice by the league’s concussion spotters. Pavel Francouz came in and would go on to finish the game. There’s a great storyline for him coming, but man oh man. This Avalanche team just can’t get any injury luck. 

Now, obviously, we don’t know much about how Kuemper is feeling. So this could be an overreaction, but when we didn’t even see him return to the bench for the third period, you winced, because your mind immediately goes to the fact that he dealt with a minor head issue earlier this season.

We’ll have to wait and see in the coming days what Kuemper’s status is. You just hope that he’s ok, and can get back on the ice sooner rather than later. Of course, his heath and well-being is first and foremost, but from the hockey side of it, he is going to be so key for the Avs over the next couple of months. Losing him for any considerable amount of time would be a massive blow that would require management to weigh some options they would probably rather not have to worry about. 

With the caveat of knowing that the rest of this game had a bit of a cloud over it from the Avs’ perspective, it was a phenomenal finish.

The Avs and Wild traded chances, the goalies made great saves, and the stars came to play. After Kirill Kaprizov tied the game, Nathan MacKinnon took the lead back by finishing off a beautiful passing play. The puck got lodged in Kahkonen’s leg pad, so the officials needed a video review to confirm that the puck crossed the line, but it was eventually called a good goal.

With the goalie pulled, the Wild were able to get the game tied after executing a set play off the face-off to force overtime.

Both teams secured a point, which is worst-case scenario for the couple teams that were scoreboard watching this game, but I don’t think the Avs care too much about giving up the point right now. All they care about is winning.

After a couple big saves from each goaltender and a Nazem Kadri post, it was going to take a shootout for the second consecutive home game for the Avs to win.

It only took two Avalanche shooters, and Pavel Francouz stayed perfect for his career in shootouts. After stopping all three shots he faced today, Francouz is a perfect 9/9 all-time in the format.

You feel good about the win, you feel good about beating a division opponent, especially in the way you did it, they found another way to win.

The most important thing today though is Darcy Kuemper’s health. Francouz has played great, and you feel much better now that you’ve got him back, but you need two goalies in this league. You just do. 

The Avalanche set out on a California road trip for their next two games, a back-to-back, we’ll see what their goaltending situation looks like. For now, 14 straight wins at home, and 8-0-1 since coming back from the COVID/Christmas break… not bad. Not bad at all.

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