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Finally back at it.
Before we get into this matinee matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers, I want to give a huge shoutout to my DNVR Avalanche colleagues.
I took these last several days off to go spend some time with a long-time friend, and Meghan, AJ, and Rudo pinch hit for me and knocked it out of the park, as usual. We always talk about time off as a “time to recharge the batteries”, but rarely do you ACTUALLY feel as refreshed and recharged as you would like by the time you get home. I really do think that this last week was the first time that I felt like I was truly able to do a hard reset mentally, and I came home feeling great! Ready for trade season, and the craziness of the final 8 weeks.
Now let’s get into it.
This wasn’t the first rematch of the season between the Western Conference’s final two teams from last season, but you can definitely feel a little extra animosity between these two teams after the Avs beat the breaks off of the Oilers in four games to move on to the Stanley Cup Final last summer.
Plus, it’s never a bad thing when Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon get together for a game. Normally I would include Cale Makar’s name in that, but unfortunately for the Avs for the second time in the last 10 days Makar was ruled out due to a head injury. Not what you want.
The first 15ish minutes of the game were pretty mundane. Both teams got the looks they wanted, and really both teams had stretches of play where it felt like they were in control.
Edmonton forward Warren Foegele did his best to give the Avs a leg up in the early going, taking two egregiously bad penalties. Neither of his minors were anywhere near his own net, and I honestly thought they were both pretty obvious.
Colorado couldn’t cash in on either, which was really too bad. Teams like to take advantage of dumb penalties like that.
After the second penalty, I told some of my colleagues sitting near me that if I were Oilers Head Coach Jay Woodcroft, I would have sat Foegele down for the next 20 minutes. I really did think they were that bad.
Shows what I know though, as it was Warren Foegele who eventually broke the ice with less than five minutes to play in the opening period. A broken play led to what essentially was a 2-on-1 right in front of the Avalanche net. It looked like the puck was leaving the zone, then when it didn’t Ryan McLeod found Foegele all alone in front of the net.
Josh Manson was able to get back to give Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev some support, and I actually really liked the read he made by deciding to commit to covering the pass. Only problem was… he didn’t REALLY cover Foegele.
The idea was there, the execution was not.
Down one goal is how the Avs would head to the locker room after failing to convert on a third power play.
The second period started and it felt like the Avalanche were in some trouble. The second night of a back-to-back (with the Oilers just sitting in Denver waiting for them), they didn’t capitalize on their power plays in the first, and the Oilers got a jolt of life right at the end of the first.
Edmonton just had more jump when the middle frame got underway. They were immediately able to establish the zone and get to work. Colorado was struggling to even get puck possession.
Sure enough, Foegele once again found himself in front of the net and was the beneficiary of another really good pass and all he had to do was punch it home. The Avs already looked like they were struggling, and that early goal just seemed like a gut punch.
Give the Avs a little bit of credit, I thought they woke up a little bit and were able to push back some and generate a few opportunities, but nothing that felt ultra-threatening.
Val Nichushkin had a rush to the net that he was hooked on, and the Avs had another shot at getting back into the game. A few good looks to start, but once the Oilers cleared the puck, it just felt like the energy died. The Avs looked deflated.
The penalty ended again with nothing to show for it, but this time Leon Draisaitl went the other way and scored almost immediately as the penalty expired. Any remaining air that was in the building made a swift exit, and it really did feel like the game was over at that point.
It all just felt too easy for Edmonton, the Avs weren’t making them work for anything defensively, and so far in the second period, Colorado really was letting the Oilers do whatever they wanted in the offensive zone.
Even if the game was out of reach, the Avs needed to stand up in some way and stop the bleeding.
Well, less than 60 seconds later Nathan MacKinnon looked like he had had enough and was going to leave his stamp on this game in one way or the other.
The first real good shift of the period for the Avs, and MacKinnon walked out of the corner, into the slot and beat Jack Campbell five hole to give the Avalanche some life (the goal was later credited to J.T. Compher).
You could definitely see the boost that it gave the bench, their next number of shifts were good. They upped the pressure and started making it a little harder for Edmonton to wheel all over the ice.
Not long past the halfway mark of the game, Nichushkin got loose on an odd-man rush and tried to get the puck through to Matt Nieto, who was driving to the net.
The puck never made it to Nieto, but that’s because it went off of an Oiler skate and into the net. Suddenly, the Avs were within one goal despite not having their best game all afternoon.
The first time I really got the sense that it just wasn’t the Avs’ day was when Tyson Barrie threw a puck on from out high in the dying minutes of the second period that just evaded Georgiev.
My friends and I used to call that a “kill the comeback goal”. Any positive momentum that Colorado had built to end the period was washed away, and they were right back in the same position that they were in the early minutes of the second period.
I half expected the third to play out pretty much as expected in a game like this. The team out front playing it safe, being sure to not give up quality chances, while the team that is chasing makes desperate low-percentage plays to try and get back into it.
Factor in that the Avs were seemingly running out of gas by the minute after playing last night on the road, and It had the feel of what should be a pretty straightforward period.
Umm… yeah that’s not what happened. The third period was wild pretty much from the opening 30 seconds.
MacKinnon wasted no time in getting the Avalanche back within one goal. Just :26 into the final period, MacKinnon was streaking down the near-side wall, and just flat-out beat Campbell short-side down low. The building had some life again.
The other programming note that I think I need to mention at this point is that the Oilers hadn’t gotten a power play through 40 minutes. You knew that would change at some point.
Sure enough, about one minute after MacKinnon made this a game, Andrew Cogliano got the gate for slashing. You winced because it just felt natural for the #1 power play in the league to take advantage where the Avs couldn’t in order to put this game away.
While they didn’t score on the power play, it definitely got the ice tilted back toward the Avalanche net, and Edmonton was able to leverage that into a goal just minutes later. Yet another presumed “kill the comeback goal” as the Oilers regained their two-goal lead.
Apparently, Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche don’t subscribe to my theory though of goals that kill a comeback. They outright refused to go away in this game.
Logan O’Connor straight outworked everyone on a loose puck in the crease and was able to jam a puck past Campbell just a few minutes later, and we were back to a one-goal game with plenty of time to play.
Not at all unlike Game 4 of the WCF, suddenly that vibe of “this one may be over” from earlier in the game started to shift, and an Avs game-tying goal felt inevitable.
Several good looks, and quite a few minutes later it was Compher who threw a puck on from out high and got a tip in front by Artturi Lehkonen. We were all tied up.
The building erupted, and the Oilers looked stunned.
Both teams played it safe for the remainder of regulation, and we were off to an unexpected overtime.
For the Avs to pull even a single point out of this game was nothing short of amazing. Just an unbelievably gutsy effort from top to bottom in the third period.
It really felt like the Avs were playing with house money at this point… down 3-0, 4-2, and 5-3, now one shot away from going out with a win.
For as much as we have talked this year about the fun being coached out of 3v3 OT, that was not the case today. That overtime was fantastic. Great chances at both ends, and equally impressive saves from both goalies.
Eventually, though it was an offensive zone face-off that led to Mikko Rantanen walking down the slot, outwitting Campbell, and lifting it top shelf into the back of the net. It was a walk-off win in spectacular fashion.
This game felt like a win that last year’s team would have had. Nothing left in the tank, down and out on the scoreboard, but still finding a way to win. It’s also impossible to not draw parallels to Game 4 (as I semi-mentioned before), a game in which the Oilers couldn’t put the Avs away, and it cost them.
A massive win, in a really impressive game. 5 days between games for the Avs, but I’m sure they won’t mind the rest after today.