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If there’s one thing the second half of the NHL season regularly produces, it’s desperation. Teams start to realize they only have so many games remaining on the schedule to get the points necessary to make the postseason and turn up the intensity a notch or two.
After completing their first comeback win of the season last night in Columbus, a tired Avalanche team rolled into Minnesota to complete their five-game road trip with their second game in 48 hours.
The Wild had spent their Saturday night doing…whatever people in Minnesota do for fun. Watching Sampo Ranta make a case for an NHL contract with the Gophers? Maybe curling?
Point is, they were rested and ready to go as they have clawed their way back into the postseason picture. They began the night four points behind with games in hand on teams in front of them and have won three games this week, just like Colorado.
A sloppy first period ended with both teams failing to score but not without some adventures along the way as puck management on both sides left quite a bit to be desired.
It was the second period that would provide most of the fireworks and all of the scoring.
The Avs got short-handed, power-play, and even-strength goals from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabe Landeskog, respectively, and gave up two power-play goals to the Wild as they built a 3-2 lead.
But it wasn’t the score that drove the game so much as Minnesota’s increasingly desperate attempts to muck and grind it out with the Avs.
Traditionally, Colorado has been a softer team that couldn’t take a punch like what the Wild were delivering.
For today, at least, that was no more.
The third period was full of physical encounters up and down the ice and Matt Calvert and Luke Kunin even had a mediocre tilt at one point after Calvert pushed Dubnyk over because he was trying to hold Calvert down on the ice.
The Wild did what they’ve always done best – they tried to bully Colorado. The Avs have historically responded by letting themselves get rattled and punched out of games, especially in Minnesota. But these are a different breed of Avs and today they did a little punching back of their own.
In the end, all the physical stuff is just a means to an end and is meaningless if you can’t put pucks behind the goaltender and Pavel Francouz rose to the occasion today and denied the Wild a comeback attempt.
Colorado finished their road trip with a 4-1 record and moved their record on the second game of back-to-backs to 4-4-1 on the season.
- The biggest story of this game didn’t end up being the score but Nazem Kadri’s injury late in the second period. He came out for a single shift in the third period before immediately leaving and heading down the tunnel for the rest of the game. There are no updates on his status yet and other than it being a lower-body injury, I won’t speculate about it here. The severity of the injury could (but probably shouldn’t) have an impact on the team’s approach to the trade deadline. Here’s to hoping it’s minor and the next bullet point is irrelevant.
- If Kadri is out for any meaningful length of time, it might mean it’s time to look to the streaking Colorado Eagles for reinforcements. Would they bring another vet back (Tynan, Megna, Dries) or a young guy who is breaking out in a big way (Bowers)? Bednar has been pleased with the daily habits of Vlad Kamenev this year so he could just as easily slide back into the lineup and the call-up is ultimately just a placeholder.
- When the Avs went into their break, they did so with major goaltending questions. Both guys had struggled in the lead up to the time off and it generated a lot of uncertainty. After a 4-1 week that saw four quality starts, that noise is certainly quieter today than it was a week ago. Between Grubauer and Francouz, they just need to keep this headed in the right direction. Francouz was very good in this one and certainly outplayed his counterpart, who was nothing short of awful with the exception of one incredible save late in the third period.
- The quality of opponent is going to take a major spike in the next two weeks with the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning coming to Denver and both teams are looking to avenge blowout losses earlier in the year. Alex Ovechkin is on goal #700 watch and it feels like destiny that happens in Denver against former Caps goalie Grubauer.
- It won’t show up on the scoresheet but I felt like the version of Mikko Rantanen we saw today is the one I’ve spent most of the last two years watching. He was using his body to protect the puck and forcing defenders to actually, you know, defend him, which is something he’s gotten away from a bit. He’s always been at his best imposing his will (and massive body) on opponents and utilizing his rare combination of size and soft hands. There was more of that today and I’m hopeful it leads to a bigger breakout this week.
- This was a game where Matt Calvert’s value really shined. He is such a valuable pest to have on the team. He’s got enough skill to be utilized in a variety of situations but his willingness to scrap and antagonize is unique on this Avalanche team. Who doesn’t love #11?
- While Pierre McGuire made him sound like a Norris candidate today, Ian Cole was still very good in this one. I think as much as Cole has adapted to how Colorado wants to play, he’s still at his most comfortable in games that go sideways. He seems very comfortable in the chaos and intensity of a game driven more by anger than skill. A good guy to have back there who has had a very strong couple of months here.