Playing with house money. That’s a gambling phrase that means you’ve put yourself in a good enough position that you are playing with little, to no risk at all.
The Colorado Avalanche were playing with house money on Saturday night when they wrapped up their three-game road trip against the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena.
After a two(ish) week skid that saw the Avs win just once in eight games, a 7-0 win over the Ottawa Senators springboarded the team to a four-game winning streak that saw them play some of their best hockey of the season so far. They handled Ottawa and the Detroit Red Wings pretty handily on home ice, but the question was if they could build on that and take the show on the road against much better teams.
That question intensified when it was announced before the first game of the three-game trip that Cale Makar was considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The two wins at home felt like such solid building blocks, and it felt like a gut punch that could have led to all of that good being undone.
Instead, it was the opposite. The Avalanche kicked off their Makar-less road trip with maybe their best game all season in a win against the Calgary Flames, then doubled down with another really solid performance two nights later in Vancouver against the Canucks, which officially moved them back to the inside of the playoff picture.
A trip that very easily could have started out 0-2 given how desperate the other teams they were playing also were for wins, instead got going with the Avs collecting all four points that were available to them.
Suddenly, having to go to Seattle on the second night of a back-to-back didn’t feel so daunting. It felt like the Avalanche could play fast and loose, knowing this road trip was already a success.
Obviously, you want to win every game, but they didn’t need to be squeezing their stick, stressed about trying to eke out a positive trip.
I thought we saw that reflected in their game tonight. It was one of their strongest attributes last year, they were just so steady and even in every game and situation.
When tonight’s game started, the first 5-7 minutes were ALL Kraken. They were absolutely buzzing. Throwing pucks on from everywhere, winning loose-puck battles, and sustaining zone pressure for long stretches.
Goaltender Pavel Francouz made a few key saves early to keep the score 0-0 and allow his team to settle in a bit.
The early running around led to a Mikko Rantanen slashing penalty, and Colorado was on the kill with all of the momentum going against them. It looked like it could spell disaster, but I actually think it was exactly what the Avalanche needed to get themselves engaged in the game.
Their PK group tightened things up, and I actually thought introduced some structure to the Avs’ game. Francouz was good too in helping kill the penalty, and once the team was back at even strength, they really pushed back and tilted the ice in the other direction.
Suddenly, it was Philipp Grubauer’s turn to stand on his head in order to keep his team in it. Really I felt like the Avalanche really dictated the paces for the remainder of the first period. Seattle had a couple looks here and there, but it seemed like the Avs were mostly in control.
The first period ended scoreless, as both goalies showed out early. The second period, I thought, was a ton of fun.
Great action on both sides, the teams traded quality chances, we got saves, we got hits, then just before the halfway mark of the game, Alex Newhook broke the ice with the first goal of the game.
Jacob MacDonald put a puck on from the point, Artturi Lehkonen corralled the rebound and put the puck back on net, before Newhook found it with just a little more time and space. He roofed it up over Grubauer’s right shoulder, and the Avs were off and running.
The line he was out there with at the moment was a bit of a mixed bag, but as Jared Bednar pointed out last night, playing regularly with Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor these last couple of games seems to be doing wonders for him.
As normally happens in games like this where the goalies are stealing the show, once one team breaks through, weirdly another goal usually seems to follow quickly after.
Sure enough, just barely more than a minute later Ryan Donato jumped off the bench and took advantage of a botched clearing attempt and beat Francouz five-hole. Just like that, we were back to all even.
It got pretty scramble-y for both teams after that I thought, like… we were still seeing fun scoring chances, but I saw these ones coming as more of a result of sloppy play than anything else.
Things definitely opened up a bit.
Again though, the goalies did what they could to keep things tied at one apiece.
Suddenly, the Avalanche were sitting in a situation where all they had to do was win one period, and they could sweep a three-game road trip, all without superstar defenseman Cale Makar.
Here was the one problem though. The Avalanche were wrapping up a road trip, while Seattle was in the middle of a five-game homestead. The Avs also played and traveled last night. Kraken players were nestled in their own beds at a reasonable hour.
You could see Colorado’s energy level dropping, and it became a question of how much did they have left in the tank.
All eyes on Pavel Francouz suddenly, eh?
I thought they did a decent job at not getting skated into the ground. The Kraken knew they were tired and was clearly trying to push the pace.
The first half of the period plus, it was a lot of Francouz doing the heavy lifting for the Avs. Fighting off good scoring chance after good scoring chance. The Avs weren’t getting any sustained looks in the offensive zone l its of one-and-done.
Their shifts were getting shorter, and you could see their legs getting heavier. They were purely just trying to hang on while staring down two days off after tonight’s game. No reason to hold anything back.
It was a heck of an effort in the third. It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, but this team found a way to scratch and claw to get the game to over time. It was clear they weren’t going to outskate Seattle at 5-on-5. So for them to get the game to a coin flip in OT? That was their best chance.
Not to mention, they secured themselves a point, despite being dead tired. This piece started by talking about them playing with house money… well that was the understatement of 2023 at this point.
The Avs didn’t touch the puck much in the 3-on-3 OT period, but they somehow were able to generate two breakaways. Neither yielded any results, but they had their chances.
It was a lot of holding and resetting by the Kraken. Lehkonen got sick of it at one point and absolutely laid out Matty Beniers late in the period. That play didn’t play a huge role in overtime, I just thought it was wild that Lehkonen threw a hit that big.
Five minutes came and went, and we were heading to a shootout.
It was shaping up to be a picture-perfect scenario for the Avalanche. Francouz had gotten you to this point, now your stars could bring it home, and that’s exactly what happened.
Francouz finished as strongly as he started, stopping all three Seattle shooters, and Nathan MacKinnon pulled a new move out of his bag of tricks to fool Grubauer for the lone goal of the shootout.
Just like that, this team running on fumes is walking out of the oldest arena in the NHL having collected six of a possible six points on this three-game trip.
That win makes it five in a row, and they are starting to look like the team we saw last year. The team that found a way.
Two very well-deserved days off coming up before they start a three-game homestead that will carry them right up to the bye week, and eventually into the All-Star break.