Showdown week begins. The Colorado Avalanche had a chance to take first place in the Central Division with a win tonight.
Alexandar Georgiev earned his 55th start in net.
Three minutes into the game’s start, Minnesota dumped the puck out and pursued the chase in transition. Georgiev went to play the puck behind the net and intended to clear the puck along the boards and instead turned it over to Marcus Johansson – similar to Connor Ingram’s unlucky move involving Mikko Rantanen against Arizona.
Johansson rattled the puck off to Matt Dumba up high, and Dumba passed to Joel Eriksson-Ek who completed an impressive maneuver to catch the puck on his forehand and backhand it between his legs backward and past Cale Makar through the crease. Johansson was there to bat it in the small space left under Georgiev’s blocker.
At 5:28, Colorado earned their first powerplay chance of the game. J.T. Compher drew a tripping penalty, and the Avs searched for the game-tying goal. They managed three attempts, but could not get a shot on net.
A few minutes later, the Avs took to the penalty kill and Bo Byram went to the box for hooking. The kill was nearly neutralized by a Joel Eriksson-Ek interference penalty, but Lars Eller took a high sticking call to force four-on-three hockey.
As Byram’s penalty expired, J.T. Compher/Jack Johnson sent a tactful stretch pass up ice, angled off the boards just so for Byram to collect exiting the box. Byram skated in and wristed the puck past Filip Gustavsson.
With nearly four minutes left in the period, Minnesota pushed and pushed. John Klingberg launched a puck toward the net, and Sam Girard tried to settle it. Sam Steel kicked the loose puck to himself and backhanded it in past Georgiev.
The shots were tied 11-11 apiece. Outside of two powerplay chances for Minnesota, Colorado did control possession.
Near the midway point, Val Nichushkin was shoved from behind near the goal line and fell hard near the boards. Oskar Sundqvist was called for boarding and Colorado went on the powerplay.
Twenty-four seconds into its start, a Nathan MacKinnon rebound led to a loose puck. Cale Makar meant to corral the puck with a sweeping motion, but Frederick Gaudreau charged at it and busted past him and buried it past Georgiev on the other end. Colorado had just one attempt and it was blocked. They nearly allowed another chance against, but the expiration of the powerplay granted them mercy.
At 8:09, Logan O’Connor was called for interference and the penalty kill was tested yet again. The Wild got five shots through, but the kill held together with the help of Georgiev.
The first half of this period felt like an even exchange back and forth, but after the shorthanded goal against, the Avs needed to reset in intermission. The mistakes of the failed powerplay left a bitter taste.
By the end, the sheer numbers painted a pretty unalarming picture: Colorado led in shots 26-25, and the Wild were held to equal high-danger chances in the second period, but the Avs looked out of sorts and they needed to find the back of the net.
Jake Middleton went to the box for hooking and the Avs had a chance to redeem their horrific powerplay from the second period. Near its end, Mikko Rantanen had a premium chance coming down the slot, but it was stopped. The Avs had five total attempts, but only Rantanen’s shot made it on net.
In the opening ten minutes, Colorado kept Minnesota from a shot on net and generated ten chances of their own. They were pushing.
With eight minutes to go, a broken play in the offensive zone led to a breakaway chance from Connor Dewar. Georgiev made the save.
Devon Toews fired a shot from the right circle and Lars Eller breezed by the crease just in time to perfectly redirect it in at 13:41 into the third.
Five minutes to go, and the arena erupted in applause because they believed Minnesota had too many men on the ice. After review, the officials declared there was no call on the play.
They continued to push: apply pressure, reset immediately, apply pressure again, reset.
With 1:55 remaining, Georgiev came out of the net for the extra skater. The Avs were presented the chance of all chances: Jared Spurgeon was called for delay of game with 51 seconds to go.
Val Nichushkin tipped a shot near the netfront, but it was blocked and the rebound came out to Gaudreau who sailed it down the ice into the empty net – technically his second shorthanded goal of the night, though the circumstances were obviously different.
Avs fell 4-2 against the Minnesota Wild. The final shots total was 44-29 in favor of Colorado.
The division title would have to be claimed another day. Until then, the Wild moved further ahead with 97 points.
Observations | Quotes from inside the locker room:
It’s a tough pill to swallow because the division lead was within reach. Games like this are frustrating because they feel winnable even down 3-1 at the midway mark. By that point, there was still half a game left and Colorado proved that they could push hard, but the margin for error proved too thin for 30 minutes of high-effort hockey to paper over.
A game ago, the powerplay had scored consecutively in their last 12 contests. How quickly the unit could leave a nasty impression when it’s responsible for a shorthanded goal, one which arguably disrupted the game beyond repair because there wasn’t enough runway to make it right despite their best, valiant efforts.
But, the powerplay is still among the league’s best (second overall) for the month of March.
And, Colorado still has the game in hand. Perhaps this is the equalizer for these teams: that game in hand is a wash and now they are truly neck and neck. The narrow margin for error is not one that only the Avs are held to. There’s still hockey to be played from all teams.
Concern is where fear meets care and thought. It’s okay to care; their fate is far from decided.
Jared Bednar postgame: “It’s a game of mistakes, and we made some big ones. We didn’t make a lot of them, but we made some big ones and they capitalized on them. That turns out to be the difference in the hockey game.”
Jared Bednar on engagement: “As a group to start the game, they were more competitive than we were. I felt like we had some passengers for the first period-plus. When you’re playing a game like this, a playoff-style game, you can’t have passengers. I thought we had some of those guys get going in the third period, and I don’t want to put the whole group in that because I thought we had a lot of guys who played their butts off tonight. When you’re banged up a little bit, you’re going through it, and you’re playing 15 games in 26 days, and you get a chance to play at home to win the division, I would have liked to see our whole team engaged right away, and I don’t think that our whole team was engaged right away.”
Jared Bednar on Bo Byram: ”He’s been a guy that, again, at the drop of the puck tonight he’s ready to go. He’s doing everything he can, he doesn’t get comfortable or complacent, regardless of the time and the score of the game, he’s playing to win.”
Cale Makar on the difference in their push during the third period: “It’s our attack attitude, we need to have that every single period. It just wasn’t good enough tonight overall. It’s a learning curve for us to show playoff games. We didn’t achieve the first test, but there’s going to be a lot more.”
Cale Makar on the caliber of competition Minnesota brings: “Every team is going to be difficult to beat for us in the West. It’s not going to be easy any rounds by any means. We’re fighting to get home-ice advantage in that first round. They did a good job of limiting our chances. Overall, just not good enough from us.”
Mikko Rantanen on lessons to take into Saturday: “I think we did some good things. I think we created enough chances to at least get it to overtime. Their goalie played well, and we didn’t get enough traffic in front of him. A couple bounces there went their way. A tough one here, but we gotta move on quick.”
“A couple good looks in the second, but the third was obviously our best. We were pushing just a little bit too late, you know. But I think in the middle and in the third, we had enough chances to tie the game.”