Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Colorado Avalanche Community!

How Colorado's Pesky Comeback Effort Defines Their Championship Aspirations

Meghan Angley Avatar
March 25, 2024

It’s been done just twice before in franchise history: after overcoming a four-goal deficit, the Colorado Avalanche added to their comeback lore in their 5-4 OT win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Including tonight, some of them have been ugly, but they’ve yet to lose a game in their last nine.

It coincides with the boost provided by all the new arrivals who have fallen in line quickly. Their record since the trade deadline is not a coincidence.

But, the will to win demonstrated by Colorado’s leaders is infectious too.

“If we don’t deviate from our game plan, I think it’s tough to contain us when we’re down.”

Nathan MacKinnon

With a room full of players who’ve won, there’s an absence of panic in the face of defeat that has become a strength of this group.

“They believed right until the end that we’d come back and win that game,” said Jared Bednar. 

“You could tell by the chatter in the locker room after one/after two that they weren’t going to give up on it… It would have been an easy game to go away quietly and say, ‘It wasn’t our night,’ but they didn’t allow that to happen.”

Pittsburgh gave it to Colorado for 45 minutes. The Avs were down, but they were never out.

Crosby’s Crusade

There’s a reason Sidney Crosby’s footprint in hockey will be forever etched in history. He’s an elite player with the ability to single-handedly impact the course of a game, and he did.

He played a pivotal role in every goal Pittsburgh scored to put them up 4-0.

He picked Mikko Rantanen’s pocket to spring Bryan Rust’s goal. 

On the third goal, Valterri Puustinen snapped the puck to Crosby after a failed clear in Colorado’s end.

Crosby was perfectly angled at the red line to redirect the puck in off his stick blade from an impossible angle.

It’s the kind of goal only he could score. His line rocked Colorado’s top-line until Bednar made some changes.

Aside from Crosby, Pittsburgh came with a really good game plan too.

In the first period, it looked like Pittsburgh took one look at the Columbus game and dialed into their details to avoid a similar fate. They managed their lanes well and aggressively defended man-on-man. This prevented the Avs from moving the puck in the o-zone. It led to a lot of broken plays and takeaways (5) in the first frame. Colorado couldn’t get away with some of their usual skill plays.

Pittsburgh completely dominated the possession game and held Colorado to zero high-danger opportunities after the first and into the start of the second period.

Part of Pittsburgh’s solid d-zone coverage included their ability to get the puck out of their end quickly. Well-executed clears allowed very few second looks for the Avs to try and create more than one scoring chance on a shift.

Sleeper Agents

Colorado wore Pittsburgh’s strategy down with the rise of their depth who received matchups they could capitalize on with hard work.

Their stars were being stifled by Pittsburgh’s aggressive coverage, so the depth had to act as sleeper agents ready to strike.

This was evidenced by the shot differential coming out of the first.

Only Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Walker, and Zach Parise registered a shot on net.

A good penalty kill in the second period kickstarted their activation. They had several shorthanded attempts. Yakov Trenin won the d-zone faceoff against Crosby. Andrew Cogliano led the charge early with a missed attempt, and Brandon Duhaime and Cale Makar created two takeaways. Duhaime had a missed attempt and a great sequence from Walker and Val Nichushkin led to a tic-tac-toe play that was stopped.

I really like the way Walker moves the puck.

Later in the second, Parise took the puck from Crosby in the neutral zone and Colorado’s third line entered the zone. Miles Wood used his speed to get Parise’s go-ahead pass and dropped it along the boards for Ross Colton behind the net. Colton’s pass to the slot dribbled out to Walker in the high-slot.

Walker took the shot and Parise acted as a screen at the netfront to help usher it in.

Just before the second period’s end, Sam Girard broke the puck out to Artturi Lehkonen and Lehkonen tried to send it in to Duhaime, but it was broken up.

Fortunately Walker was at the blueline to skate it in. His initial shot missed, but Lehkonen helped fight Erik Karlsson off the puck to get it to Duhaime alone in the slot. Duhaime sent the puck on net and Yakov Trenin’s body deflected it in.

The new guys helped to cut the deficit to two and it was up to Colorado’s stars to bring it home.

MacKinnon’s Moment

The tough thing about Nathan MacKinnon’s home point-streak inside a five game homestand is the inability to go a game without a point. At least with some games on the road to break it up, he could afford to go one game without a point here and there. The pressure is on for MacKinnon, and I think he likes it this way.

Another tough start for MacKinnon, like in the Columbus game, initiated more line swaps.

Originally it was Casey Mittelstadt for MacKinnon, but we saw MacKinnon with Mittelstadt briefly and a glimpse at Jonathan Drouin, MacKinnon, and Rantanen together as well.

MacKinnon admitted that he likes the line changes inside the game – especially when things get stale.

After Trenin’s goal with just seconds left in the period, MacKinnnon took the next shift with Mittelstadt and Rantanen and split two Pens down the slot, but his wrister was swallowed by Alex Nedeljkovic. MacKinnon slammed his stick on the glass in frustration. He was clearly searching for his point.

It’s obvious to me that, even though MacKinnon denies thinking much about the point-streak, his teammates are unafraid to care for him.

In the opening minutes of the third period, Toews skated the puck in and slipped it back to MacKinnon. MacKinnon skated to the half-wall, threw on the brakes, and found a seam to Drouin in the right-circle. Drouin dropped to his knee in anticipation and one-timed it in.

Nathan MacKinnon extended his home point-streak to 34 games and overtook Wayne Gretzky (33 GP from Nov. 3, 1985–April 2, 1986) for sole possession of the second longest in NHL history behind yet another run by Gretzky (40 GP from Oct. 6, 1988–April 1, 1989).

When the in-arena announcer called out MacKinnon’s assist on the goal, the home crowd exploded in applause. Everybody knew what he was aiming for.

He also extended his point streak to 18 games, just one back of matching his career-high set from Nov. 20 to Dec. 27, 2023 (13-23—36 in 19 GP).

It was an odd matinee crowd. There was a huge Avs presence split with a big Pens presence too. Throughout the game, both sides passionately cheered for their respective teams and created a palpable, unique energy.

But for MacKinnon’s streak, it was undeniably the loudest Ball Arena got all afternoon.

To complete the comeback, Toews used his stick to disturb the play on the backcheck later in the third period. Makar used Rantanen to reset and prepare for exit. Toews carried the puck up ice and passed to Drouin on his right-side. Drouin found a seam through Drew O’Connor and Marcus Pettersson to MacKinnon at the left-circle. MacKinnon dropped to his knees and sent the one-timer short-side.

In overtime, Colorado regrouped at center ice and Makar sprung Drouin for re-entry. Drouin burst past Kris Letang, protected on his backhand to drag it across the crease, and lifted it off his forehand over a falling Nedeljkovic. 

MacKinnon’s record night could only be possible with the help of Drouin’s impressive performance: two goals and an assist, three shots on net, and the best possession player of the night with a 61.36 Corsi-for percentage in all situations.

“He was the best player on the ice,” Bednar said of Drouin. “He was phenomenal.”

They’re on the ice late every practice working on their one-timers and the very touches that helped them to connect on each of their respective goals.

Their chemistry together as players dates back to their time together winning a Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads. It’s a special bond and a special circumstance for them to be brought together at this stage in their career. They work hard to lift one another up.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?