After the disappointment of Tuesday’s failed comeback effort, Colorado looked to right the course on the road against a stunted Chicago team. The Blackhawks hadn’t played since Sunday and would have fresh legs under them. Even though they won two of their last games, Chicago has been on a crash course to finesse the draft lottery with a 10-25-4 record and a mere 24 points.
The Blackhawks are among the worst in the league in the standings, special teams, and goaltending – the Avs entered tonight at risk of fumbling a winnable game. Pavel Francouz got the nod in net as Alexandar Georgiev got a well-earned night of rest.
About three minutes into the first, Colorado tried to settle the puck in the offensive zone. Jacob MacDonald took a tumble along the boards and the puck slipped away from him up to Colin Blackwell at the blueline. Sam Lafferty saw the breakdown unfold and went streaking through to neutral zone to collect Blackwell’s pass and enter the zone on a breakaway. Lafferty beat Francouz in close and put Chicago up 1-0 early in the first.
Past the midway point, the Avs created chances in the Blackhawks’ end. Nathan MacKinnon collected the puck along the boards and ripped a shot in tight. Evan Rodrigues slid down the slot and lifted MacKinnon’s rebound past Petr Mrazek.
Colorado received two powerplay opportunities nearly back-to-back to close out the period. They couldn’t capitalize on the first minor penalty nor the second double-minor after a high-stick on Jacob MacDonald gave them a four-minute chance.
The first half of the period looked disjointed for the Avs. Rodrigues’ goal helped to snap them out of a lull, but the inability to get shots on net during two powerplay opportunities didn’t invoke confidence that they had checked back in. Colorado outshot Chicago by a narrow margin given their extended zone time (11-7), but the Avs were more dangerous in their chances (9-1).
This time about two minutes in, Colorado went off for a change. Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor came in to press the issue on the forecheck, but Chicago sent a long outlet pass to Andreas Athanasiou left unattended in the neutral zone. Darren Helm was meant to be there Athanasiou beat everyone and landed on Francouz’s doorstep. He danced around front and his shot was lifted up and in off Francouz’s glove.
Colorado’s kill was then tested three times in eight minutes. First after a Kurtis MacDermid crosscheck, again after Brad Hunt took an interference penalty, and another after a Ben Meyers holding call. The kills were successful – Pavel Francouz stopped seven of seven shots faced.
In between penalty city, MacKinnon won a faceoff in the offensive zone and Colorado worked to settle and cycle the puck. Mikko Rantanen bumped the puck to Cale Makar at the blueline and he fired a shot through traffic and in.
The Avs had a late powerplay opportunity after Mikko Rantanen was tripped, but were unable to convert. Through four total chances now, Colorado only registered five shots on net.
During the second, Chicago was able to take the lead in shots (21-20) and dangerous chances (9-0). Process wise, Colorado looked a mess.
True to the last two periods, Colorado allowed the first goal. At 6:36 into the final period, Chicago cycled the puck around the perimeter. Tyler Johnson fired a cross-ice pass from the left circle and Taylor Raddysh tapped it in.
Colorado had one more chance to convert on the powerplay after Rantanen drew his second tripping penalty of the game, but it didn’t matter.
With five minutes remaining, Alex Newhook stayed with the play and whacked the puck into the net. Chicago challenged the goal for goaltender interference from Mikko Rantanen. The challenge was successful and the goal was called back. Upheaval seemed to happen below the belt – it looked like Rantanen’s leg was held up and taken from under him. He fell into the blue paint and appeared adamant that he was pushed.
Around the two minute remaining mark, the Avs pulled their goaltender. J.T. Compher was able to get a shot on net and MacKinnon had two, but Mrazek had the answers to each. The clock ran out and Colorado was out of chances. The Avs fell 3-2.
Special teams still imploding: The penalty kill got lucky. Francouz made the saves that he needed to, but Chicago was able to sustain continuous pressure and create dangerous chances. Worse yet is their inability to convert with the man advantage. To the contrary, the Avs struggled to maintain possession in Chicago’s end on the powerplay and only generated five shots on net through five opportunities – only three of which were dangerous. It’s tough to see with the offensive weapons that the Avs do have. Mismanaged pucks broke up plays on the cycle and left them fighting to regain control.
Losing a winnable game: Colorado didn’t respect the competition. Entering tonight, Chicago was among the league’s worst – eighth – on the penalty kill and powerplay, seventh worst in goals allowed, sixth worst in shots allowed. The Blackhawks didn’t control possession at 5-on-5, the Avs did. Still, the Avs spent ten minutes of the entire game with a man advantage and still couldn’t generate meaningful chances. Period by period, they came out flat allowing Chicago to score first and regain a lead. The Avs have been among the best in shots generated, and they had ample opportunity to create tonight, but getting stapled to just 33 shots to their 30 is a reflection of an effort that falls short.