Nathan MacKinnon

This was a game the Avs really needed to have and MacKinnon was the big star from either team to show up and be a consistent force throughout. Eight shots on goal, two of which go in, really highlight the statistical contributions of MacKinnon, but it was more about his presence on the ice.

Somehow, Dallas abandons him on a major coverage breakdown on the first goal of the game, but after that the Stars did everything they could to throw a blanket on MacKinnon and his speed through the neutral zone. A tough task, but Stars coach Pete DeBoer has had the best results in finding a solution for MacKinnon in the postseason, so it can be done on some level.

We saw MacKinnon fight through the attention tonight and he easily could have finished with the kind of numbers Rantanen did had Rantanen himself been up to snuff in actually scoring with a goalie in the net.

Logan O’Connor

Colorado’s crash test dummy was at it again tonight as LOC was throwing his weight around and creating havoc for the Stars. The numbers are ugly at even strength where LOC was outshot 9-2 when he was out there, but both of those shots (along with one more on the PK) were his and one of them beat Oettinger to make it 2-0.

That’s the kind of night you’ll take from a guy like LOC. It wasn’t always pretty but this is a nice example of a player’s individual game numbers not matching up with how I felt he played.

I loved LOC’s energy in a game where the Avs occasionally got a little too comfortable trading the puck in the neutral zone. His four hits finished second on the Avs (behind Sam Girard’s five hits??) and it was a much-needed element against a tired team that was able to keep their legs for too much of the game.

Mikko Rantanen

Ahhh, Rantanen. Another night, another penalty, another shouting match with a referee. I didn’t even like the boarding call on Rantanen but you can certainly see where the case was being made. It doesn’t really matter, though, because Rantanen has put himself on the official’s official radar this year with his argumentative ways.

It was Rantanen’s 29th minor of the season, which is good for sixth in the NHL and fourth among forwards. No other Avs even has 20 (LOC and Josh Manson are tied with 16 each).

This has been all pretty negative so far, but when I say Rantanen finished with a four-point night, well, that’s just how Mikko Rantanen lives sometimes.

The last two of those four points might have come with an empty net from the Stars, but the first certainly didn’t when he made a great play in the corner on a centering feed to MacKinnon, who one-timed a rocket past Jake Oettinger.

Rantanen made the real play there and we saw plenty of that side of Rantanen’s game tonight. He’s a real roller coaster as on the same shift he can oscillate between one of the world’s most gifted offensive players to one who just doesn’t seem capable of getting out of his own way at times. We saw a lot of that tonight.

The shooting drought is real so maybe getting the empty-net goal tonight will spark Rantanen to get back to beating goaltenders. It’s a testament to how special Rantanen is as a player that I feel most of this section has been negative except for the acknowledgment of his four points, which were plenty well-earned and made a significant difference in a 5-2 win.

Colorado’s third period

The third period of games is always a season-long discussion every year, but this year’s Avalanche team hasn’t been anywhere as killer as last year’s team was. No shock, that team was incredible and this team is proving itself to be much more good than great at times.

There have been a few meltdowns late in games, however, that have done little to inspire confidence this team has the killer instinct required of true Stanley Cup contenders. They haven’t erased many leads and have struggled to protect plenty. Just last week they blew a third-period lead to Arizona, reclaimed it, and lost it again. The shootout won’t bail the Avs out in the postseason.

But tonight, the Avs closed. You can talk about the tired legs of Dallas having played a late game in Arizona the night before. That’s a totally fair point and certainly part of the discussion, but it didn’t change the task at hand. Colorado put themselves in a position to win this hockey game with a quality final frame.

They got it.

At even strength in the third period, the Avs had 10-5 and 6-2 advantages in scoring chances and high-danger chances, respectively. Shots were 10-9 for Dallas. That isn’t a team in Colorado sitting back and trying to protect the lead, but playing Colorado Avalanche hockey. Attacking hockey. A quality third period got them across the finish line.


Colorado’s discipline

This drove me nuts. It doesn’t really matter how I feel about any of the calls, the Avs were called for five (!) infractions tonight. All five came from players with prominent roles as Rantanen had one and J.T. Compher and Bowen Byram accounted for two each.

Both Byram and Compher are part of Colorado’s PK, especially Compher. The second Byram penalty comes in the final two minutes of a 4-1 game, so you can shrug that off if you want. Fair enough. Compher’s, however, both were problems.

Getting called for playing with a broken stick is a tough look but I don’t really blame Compher much. He appeared to drop it as soon as he realized it was broken, but it was a justifiable call. The other one was absolute nonsense from Compher. Reaching out to trip a player 200 feet from your own net? There was no danger there. It was just lazy hockey, not something you expect from a guy like him.

It seemed as if the Avs would start to get a hold of the game, tilt the ice a bit and really get momentum going in their favor and, oh, sure enough, another penalty. Can’t be mad at the officiating there. Avs players need to do a better job of keeping themselves out of situations that open the door for Colorado to allow teams back into games.

Val Nichushkin

This isn’t to say I thought Nichushkin’s entire game was a mess. I don’t think that at all. What I do find interesting, however, is that when he’s next to Nathan MacKinnon, he seems to light up and play some great hockey.

Away from MacKinnon, he isn’t having quite the transformative effect on his line as we’ve come to expect from him in recent years. He’s blending into the background of games more than ever when he’s next to J.T. Compher. I wonder how much this changes if the Avs get Lehkonen and Landeskog back from injury and Nichushkin doesn’t have the pressure of being The Man on his line.

I think we’re learning that Nichushkin is at his absolute best as a complementary player, not a leading man. With these injuries, he has to play up a bit and the expectations just may not be entirely fair for him. He’s still great at what he does, I’m just feeling like maybe the Avs have pressed on his ceiling this season.

This isn’t even really me saying he was a dud tonight, just using the space to wonder aloud if we’re starting to see the limitations on a player who has been on a purely ascendant path since arriving in Denver.

Unsung Hero

Jared Bednar & video coach Brett Heimlich

Goaltender interference is one of the trickiest challenges to make in a game and  Colorado’s head coach showed serious stones in going for it in the third period tonight. When Dallas scored to make it 3-2 about nine minutes into the third period, it changed the entire tone of the game.

Colorado went from a comfortable two-goal lead against a team whose legs were starting to go to a team now trying to navigate the final 11 minutes of the game nursing a one-goal lead against a Stars club that has made a living out of late-game theatrics.

It was already a pivotal moment in the game when Bednar called the officials over and informed them they would be challenging for goaltender interference.

On initial replay, it was tough for me to see the case Bednar was making here. It seemed foolhardy to me and I was surprised they had taken such a chance in a key moment here. If they got it wrong, the goal would stand and the Stars power play would get a chance to tie the game and erase the two-goal deficit in a matter of moments.

Instead of playing it “safe” and not taking a chance on the downside, Bednar rolled the dice that the contact from Ryan Suter against Logan O’Connor would be sufficient to create a case that Alexandar Georgiev was unable to perform his goaltending duties.

Officials rewarded Bednar’s dice roll with an overturned goal and it went back to 3-1. The game never again got close or tense. Massive credit for the trust Bednar showed in his team in that moment. You don’t make that call without believing the players can finish the job even if they have to kill another penalty.


A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast. Follow AJ on Twitter - @returnofaj