Colorado had soup and salad in Seattle and Anaheim, but tonight was a main course and the Avs didn’t come hungry enough.
Fortunately, comebacks make them work up quite the appetite.
The Dallas Stars entered tonight on a four win game streak eager to make it five – especially with division points on the line.
Despite going down 0-3 in its start – thanks to six unanswered goals – Colorado eventually won 6-3.
Things were obviously grim in the beginning, so let’s start there.
In the opening ten, the Avs played well. Both teams limited the other to zero shots on net in the first five minutes, and the Avs were quick to create some of their own early.
A Mason Marchment shot was deflected in a weird direction. Matt Duchene cycled the puck in the corner, deked Sam Girard, and left the puck for Tyler Seguin back to Marchment.
Marchment made the pass from behind the goal line to Seguin uncontested at the side of the net.
This got inside the Avs’ heads and they didn’t close out the next ten minutes very well.
Four minutes later, Jonathan Drouin took a high-sticking penalty and the Avs went on the kill.
On the subsequent powerplay for Dallas, they moved the puck around the perimeter and Jamie Benn sent the puck to Joe Pavelski at the right circle. Pavelski wristed it in to give the Stars a two goal lead.
Colorado really lost their way after Seguin’s first goal. Dallas controlled the shots battle and the Avs looked asleep outside a select few of workhorses known for their commitment: Miles Wood, Val Nichushkin, Ross Colton, and Logan O’Connor.
The fourth line made up of Fredrik Olofsson, Andrew Cogliano, and Joel Kiviranta had positive moments as well.
At the start of the second period, Girard attempted to clear the puck but it was stopped by Marchment’s stick. The Avs were anticipating a transition up ice and had to return to position in defense of Dallas’ extended possession.
As a result, Marchment deflected an Esa Lindell shot which bounced to Seguin at the right side of the net to tap in.
The netfront coverage on that play and generally through that point left a lot to be desired. The Avs needed to better protect their house.
Colorado had to spend a lot of the next ten minutes on special teams. One powerplay chance and three penalties later, it was one of their hard workers from the third line that rejuvenated the group when things started to feel most dire.
At 13:27, Cale Makar broke out the puck which angled to center ice where Colton made a clever maneuver to send the puck to Wood – successfully evading two Dallas skaters in the process.
All Wood had to do was burst in with speed. It looked like he wanted to try for the backhand backdoor shot – but it wasn’t needed. He lost his balance into the blue paint, but fortunately that puck was going through Jake Oettinger anyways.
Dallas tried for goaltender interference, but Wood’s skate made contact with Oettinger after the puck was past the goal line. As a result of the failed challenge, Colorado had an important man-advantage.
They didn’t score on the initial chance, but a Roope Hintz high-stick gave them another look.
After some difficult shifts kept Ryan Johansen off the top unit (including a sluggish shift on a powerplay goal-against earlier), he resumed his rightful position on PP1.
As soon as he returned, he won the opening draw and deflected Makar’s shot from up high in.
Now they were within one goal.
New-dad Val Nichushkin saw an opportunity early in the third period. A strong shift from the fourth line led to good possession.
A Jack Johnson deflected shot kept play alive and Nichushkin sent the puck to Caleb Jones at the side of the net. Jones attempted to pass to Olofsson and was stopped by Marchment’s stick which fortunately sent the puck right to Nichushkin in the slot.
Nichushkin shot it glove-side and in.
Feeling more like themselves again, Mikko Rantanen arrived to help put this game to bed.
Nichushkin sent the puck back behind him and Rantanen stopped it in the slot to send a no-look backhand on net in a pretty spectacular fashion.
It was the kind of play only Mikko Rantanen could make.
Colorado had their first lead of the game after dropping the first three goals. The momentum swung completely in their favor because Dallas only had a little under six minutes to issue a response.
By this point, the Avs wouldn’t allow them any room to climb back in and firmly shut that door in their face.
Shortly after, Kiviranta won a battle along the boards and fired the puck on net. Olofsson created chaos at the netfront which left the puck loose for Cogliano to swoop in and bang home for good.
With thirty seconds left on the clock following a d-zone draw, Makar pokechecked the puck away from Dallas and Colton shipped it into the Stars’ empty-net to finalize this one 6-3.
It was an impressive comeback effort from Colorado on several levels.
This type of game can’t be won in a single play.
Three goals-against to start left the Avs in a tough position.
They looked listless and dazed at first, but the energy-drivers in their bottom-six forced them all awake.
Then as a group, the process required to climb back in could only be pieced together shift-by-shift.
Down three goals, there are no shortcuts for hard work. They gradually regained the possession and shots battle going 16-15 in the second to 15-6 in the third period – a stifling response.
Younger groups might have been demoralized after the third goal.
Tonight, the Avs showed real maturity as a team.
Val Nichushkin’s individual performance stands out because his talent carried the top-six as well as his work ethic.
He scored his sixth goal of the season and his thirteenth point in sixteen games. His current points pace would set a career-high. He’s on a three game goal-streak after getting held off the scoresheet in memorable losses like St. Louis, Vegas, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh.
Beyond just his scoring contributions, his relentless pursuit of the puck helped the Avs regain their footing in a game they might not have had any business winning – at least with how it started.
Nichushkin was among the team leaders in shots and hits playing both a highly skilled and physical game tonight.
The Wood, Colton, O’Connor line had the best five-on-five possession proportionate to the chances they created vs. allowed and Colton led the team in hits with four.
To get the result they did, everyone had to be fully bought in. Just three players were left out of the shots-on-net share and only one didn’t have a single attempt: Tomas Tatar.
The Avs had to keep their heads down and play Avalanche hockey tonight. Interestingly, some of the players newest to the ways of Avalanche hockey struggled the most: Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, and Ryan Johansen.
Johansen found his way back on the powerplay, but Drouin and Tatar struggled to make a positive impact. This is the type of game that would have had Artturi Lehkohnen written all over it if he was healthy.
In his absence, Tatar and Drouin hoped to ascend to a top-six role and seemed to struggle there tonight.
Perhaps there’s still some growing pains for the new additions – especially in games where the winning doesn’t come easy.
Hockey come April is categorically not easy, so it’s important for them to get on board as soon as possible. Exposure to tough games is good for them, but hopefully the Avs can dominate some games early too.
They’ll have a chance at it coming up in Nashville on Monday.