One of the most interesting parts about covering a team that is in the middle of a title defense season is the number of otherwise normal nights that suddenly have an extra level of significance. Nights like the Colorado Avalanche playing their first game back in Tampa Bay since winning the Stanley Cup there in June. Or going back to Edmonton for the first time since winning in overtime to advance to the Cup Final.
Then there were all nights where they saw former teammates for the first time and were able to present them with their Cup rings.
Tonight was another one of those special nights born from last Summer’s Stanley Cup Championship. Nazem Kadri made his return to Denver for the first time since signing with the Calgary Flames for seven yers this past offseason. Kadri played a massive role in bringing the Cup back to Colorado and was universally adored by Avalanche fans.
Everybody understood the situation after the season ended, it was clear that he had played so well last season and into the playoffs that he had priced himself out of Colorado’s future, and honestly… I think the fan base was ok with that.
The fans understood what a special ride it had been, and they also knew that the relationship was coming to a natural end and it was time to celebrate what had been.
Tonight was the fans’ chance to say thank you to Kadri for everything he did for the Avalanche organization and the city as a whole.
From the opening puck drop you could tell that Kadri had an extra chip on his shoulder tonight. He wanted to have a good night, and he was flying around early. His team follow suit in those first few shifts. The start of this game looked noticeably different from the one last night in Winnipeg.
Alexandar Georgiev stood tall, and made the saves his team needed on those first few shifts to stay in a scoreless game.
Despite not getting the jump they probably wanted right out of the gate, this Avs team is starting to settle into a rhythm, and when they’re playing like they are right now… all they need is one shift to completely flip a game.
After weathering a storm in the opening minutes, Colorado’s top line put together a strong shift that saw them create a quick break off the rush, create a chance, and retrieve a loose puck to keep the rush alive.
It eventually lead to a Val Nichushkin grabbing a puck off the wall and finding Nathan MacKinnon crossing through the middle of the ice. For the second time in two games, the Avs’ opponent let MacKinnon get loose in the offensive zone and he made them both pay.
MacKinnon took the ice that was given to him, walked in and just blew the puck right by Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom. There was already a buzz in the building tonight, and that goal took the energy level up a notch.
You could feel it in the crowd, and you could see it on the ice in the Avs’ play.
The first handful of shifts favored Calgary, but it was the Avalanche that started pushing play after MacKinnon opened the scoring.
Just shy of five minutes later, The Avs’ depth left their mark on the opening period. Again off the rush.
Logan O’Connor skated the puck into the zone on the right-side wall and sent it across ice by passing it into space. Alex Newhook arrived a couple seconds later, skated into the loose puck and absolutely hammered it on the one-timer. It beat Markstrom clean up over the glove and the Avs had a two-goal lead.
Honestly, that goal reminded me so much of Darren Helm’s Game 6 game-winner from last season. It was a near identical play.
I’m just going to take a quick little detour here to tell you that at the first TV timeout of the game, the Avs did air a really nice video tribute for Kadri on the big board here in the arena. Kadri was emotional, and it was maybe the biggest ovation I’ve ever seen from the Ball Arena crowd for a returning player. It was a great moment for Nazem Kadri and the fans.
After taking the multi-goal lead, the Avalanche gave up a 5-on-3 power play and had to be sharp on the PK in order to preserve the lead. They were, and they did.
The remainder of the first was pretty much business as usual as the Avalanche skated that 2-0 lead into the break. A shaky start turned into a solid period and a solid lead.
The second period started and if you would have told me that the Avs were the ones trying to get back into the game, I would have believed you. They were everywhere, just smothering Calgary all over the ice. For the second night in a row, the Avs were controlling a game in which they were protecting a lead.
In the early going on the period, that sustained pressure led to the Flames’ Elias Lindholm slashing Andrew Cogliano and it sent the Avs to a power play.
The Avalanche are at their most dangerous offensively when they’re retrieving loose pucks at a high success rate. They actually lost the first face-off of the power play, but Mikko Rantanen was able to chase it down behind the net and win a board battle to help the Avs establish the zone.
Some nice puck movement opened up lanes, including one to Val Nichushkin who was absolutely tee’d up for a one-timer. He hammered it, and Rantanen got a piece in front of tenet to deflect it past Markstrom. The Avs had pushed their lead to 3-0.
Following that goal, the Avs really pressed the pedal to the floor. For the next several shifts they just absolutely took over, the Flames struggled to even gain possession of the puck.
Calgary was able to push back enough to even the play a bit, and really even started to tilt the ice in their favor. Which was expected at some point. This is a desperate Calgary team that really needs the points. You knew they wouldn’t go quietly.
Sure enough, in the dying minutes of the middle frame a power play put the Flames in position to get a goal and start to build some momentum ahead of the last intermission of the night.
Calgary’s Tyler Toffoli punched in a rebound off of a Rasmus Andersson shot from the point to get the Flames on the board. It was a shot in the arm for them in what had been a pretty blah performance so far.
So here we were, a two-goal lead for the Avalanche heading into the third against a desperate team. Not unlike the situation they were in last night in Winnipeg, only tonight we were going to have to see if their legs could hold up.
The period started and it actually did not look good for the Avs right away. Calgary was really pushing things up ice and toward the net. Again Georgiev had to help hold the things down to keep the lead where it was.
You watched those first 2-3 minutes and thought “the Avs can’t do this for 20 minutes’, and technically that’s as correct. They didn’t do that for 20 minutes.
Right before the fifth minute of the period had expired, Denis Malgin grabbed a puck in the neutral zone, straight up walked a Calgary defender, then sniped it short-side past Markstrom.
That goal made it 4-1 and that really seemed like it put this game away.
A couple chances here and there going both ways to wind things down, but nothing super threatening. Honestly the most eventful part of this third period was how chippy things got.
MacKinnon didn’t like a hit he took in the corner and went after Mikael Backlund. Then a few minutes later Bowen Byram took exception to a hit on Rantanen, again from Backlund.
Finally though, we got to the ned and it was the Avalanche prevailing victorious 4-1 on the second half of a back to back.
Three pairs of back-to-backs made up the Avalanche schedule over the last 11 days, a daunting task for any team. Now at the end of it, they collected 11 out of a possible 12 points and have moved themselves into second place in the Central Division. Not a bad stretch.
A huge game against Vegas on Monday as the Avs continue this three-game home stand.