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A season for the Colorado Avalanche that somehow seems like it started just last week, while also feeling like it has been going since the Summer of ’69 is finally drawing to a close.
The Avs welcomed in the Winnipeg Jets for the final home game of the regular season, and despite its outcome having huge implications on the Central Division standings, the game itself took a backseat to the news of the day.
At 3:19PM on April 13th, the Colorado Avalanche announced that captain Gabriel Landeskog has been officially shut down for the remainder of the 2022-2023 season, including the entirety of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Landeskog met with the media before puck drop and answered questions for 19 minutes. It was a somber mood in the media room as the Avs’ captain walked through the timeline of his injury, and really gave us our first real understanding of what exactly has been going on since he hoisted the Stanley Cup back in June.
A cartilage injury in his lower patella. That is what has been keeping Landeskog out of the lineup, going back to the 2020 Playoff Bubble.
Landeskog said he was very confident at the beginning of the season that he would be able to return before game 82 of the regular season. If not then, for certain by the time the playoffs got underway.
He went on to say that the rehab just sort of “plateaued”. That’s the word he used. I asked him if there was any sort of setback after the most recent surgery that was supposed to be the one to set things straight. He said there wasn’t, but that he had maybe “underestimated” the severity of the injury.
You can see his full availability here:
It was a tough moment for Landeskog, and I’m sure it was a shocking and upsetting moment for the rest of the Avalanche. It makes the climb back to the top of the hockey mountain immeasurably more difficult. Not impossible, but Gable Landeskog plays such a massive role for this team and his absence is going to be felt in a huge way.
Through all of that, the Avalanche had a game to play, and one that meant a whole lot.
The Jets came to town having already locked in a playoff spot, and on top of that, knew exactly where they will be seeded. Winnipeg will enter the playoffs at the second Wild Card in the Western Conference. No more, no less.
This game meant literally nothing to them, and their roster reflected it. Five of their regulars up front and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck were all being held out of tonight’s game in preparation for the playoffs. Add in the injury to Nikolaj Ehlers, and you were staring down a mostly JV version of the Winnipeg Jets.
Obviously, the Avalanche also have their playoff berth locked in, but they are still looking to capture the top seed in the Central Division.
Jared Bednar mentioned this morning that just because you’re playing a team that is scratching a lot of their top players, that is not a reason to expect them to lay down. Young players getting a chance in the NHL usually means that you’re going to get a hard-working group looking to make their mark. That’s exactly what the Avs got.
From the opening puck drop, it looked like the Jets understood they had an opportunity to play the role of spoiler. They looked loose, and they were skating. The Avs looked engaged, but just had a hard time getting things going.
We went more than half of the opening frame without a goal at either end, but Denis Malgin changed that when he crashed the net following a Lars Eller shot.
Alex Newhook made a beautiful little chip pass to Eller right in the slot, he fired, and Malgin cleaned up in front. It was a goal they needed to help get them going a bit, especially after losing Andrew Cogliano after just three shifts to an upper-body injury.
They were on the board, and it was about the first bit of good news the team had gotten all day. The Avs were able to carry that lead into the locker room and the hope was that they would be able to carry that momentum into the middle frame and start to put this one away early.
Unfortunately for the Avs, that wasn’t the case. Just over two minutes into the second period, Jets forward Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was able to get inside position on Erik Johnson in front of the net and found a stuffed home the rebound of a Neil Pionk shot, and just like that we were all tied.
That goal seemed to juice up the Jets quite a bit, and I felt like they were starting to push the pace. Not what you want if you’re the Avs, given what each team had on the line.
Just past the halfway mark of the game, old friend Vlad Namestnikov stuck his leg out on Mikko Rantanen right as he was cutting to the inside.
Arm up, Avs to the power play.
It felt like an opportunity for the Avalanche to grab control of the game and start to put their foot down. Instead the opposite happened.
Just 15 seconds after the Man-advantage started, a broken play at the blue line led to an odd-man rush going up ice in Winnipeg’s favor.
Nathan MacKinnon couldn’t get back in time, and Morgan Barron feathered a perfect pass over Devon Toews’ stick to Kevin Steinlund, who punched it home.
In the blink of an eye, it went from a huge opportunity for the Avs to a one-goal deficit that they now needed to overcome.
Thankfully for the Avs, sometimes having superstar players means they are capable of doing superstar things, and that’s what Mikko Rantanen did 72 seconds later.
Still on the power play, Evan Rodrigues zipped a pass through the slot and put it right in Rantanen’s wheelhouse, and he got all of it for his 55th of the season.
A bullet of a one-timer blew by Winnipeg goaltender David Rittich before he even saw it.
With that game-tying goal, Mikko Rantanen set the Colorado Avalanche single-season goal record, passing Joe Sakic’s 54-goal performance from 2001.
The Avs needed that goal, and they needed it right then. You couldn’t still be chasing by the time the penalty expired, you just couldn’t.
That goal came with less than four minutes to play in the second, and the 2-2 score would hold until we hit the intermission.
We had a tie game heading into the third, but it really had felt like a battle to get to this point. I don’t know if it was the distractions of the day or the fact that I believe this Avs group is just ready to get the playoffs started. Whatever it was, they would need to find another gear in the final frame if they wanted to remain in control of their own destiny.
I thought their intensity and sense of purpose elevated to start the third. Maybe not to the level you wanted, but it felt like a noticeable uptick in energy.
Just three minutes in, Evan Rodrigues collected a touch pass from Artturi Lehkonen in the neutral zone and made a nifty little toe-drag around Nino Niederreiter before sending a laser of a wrist-shot on net from the point. Rittich wasn’t able to track the shot from just inside the blue line, and the Avs had their one-goal lead back.
I give this Jets team a ton of credit, they had every reason to roll over and just get out of town with no injuries, and they just refused to do it.
While it was nowhere near “dominant”, I felt like Colorado remained mostly in control for the bulk of the period. Lars Eller even drew a penalty shot in the late stages of the period. He didn’t score, but it was a bit of a sign that the Avs were in the driver’s seat.
Evan Rodrigues’ goal would hold up as the lone tally all the way until Artturl Lehkonen iced things with an empty-netter inside of the final two minutes, and that was all she wrote.
The Avs remain in control of their own destiny, despite the Dallas Stars shutting out the St. Louis Blues.
A win tomorrow in Nashville, and the Central is theirs.