The Avalanche and Golden Knights meet twice this week with West Division supremacy hanging in the balance.
On Thursday, Colorado claimed Round 1 with a convincing 5-1 victory at Ball Arena, tying the Avs with Vegas at 45 points in the standings chase. The Avalanche dominated shot differential, 32-18, and exploded for three goals in the second period after trailing to begin the game. Colorado featured three players — J.T. Compher, Gabe Landeskog and Cale Makar — who each recorded one goal and one assist.
The Avalanche (21-8-3), winners in eight of its last nine games, faces the Golden Knights (22-8-1) again Saturday with an opportunity to overtake the division lead.
“We found a way to score some timely goals, check pretty hard, and played in a pretty good pack mentality,” coach Jared Bednar said. “But the game was a little bit sloppy. I just didn’t think we had a lot of energy.”
Philipp Grubauer, after Jonas Johansson’s debut in net Tuesday, returned to start Thursday for Colorado and faced immediate adversity. A rogue puck on a Golden Knights breakaway bounced off the skate of Makar and directly to Vegas winger Max Pacioretty. His wrister snuck over Grubauer’s stick hand at the 40-second mark of the game.
The Avs, after a successful penalty kill, and failing to capitalize on their own power-play chance, finished the first period trailing 1-0.
Colorado didn’t waste its next power-play opportunity. Joonas Donskoi scored his 11th goal of the season four minutes into the second when he chopped at a bouncing puck in front of the net to tie it up. Bednar said before the game: “Joonas is finding some ways to chip in and score some goals.”
Compher put the Avs ahead, 2-1, on a slick unassisted backhand that fooled Vegas goalie Marc Andre-Fleury with 10:45 left in the second period. The Avalanche goals kept coming. Makar cashed in on a breakaway, and moments later, his shot attempt was rebounded by Landeskog and fired into the goal. Colorado led 4-1 entering the third.
“Just being able to get a few of those bounces really gave us some confidence,” Makar said. “We just started rolling.”
Forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare gave the Avs five goals on an odd-man rush with 16:06 remaining. Colorado also challenged a late Vegas goal and officials overturned it upon replay due to an offside penalty. Grubauer held stout with 17 saves against a Vegas team that had ranked No. 4 in the NHL in average goals scored (3.33).
“(Grubauer) been unbelievable all year,” Compher said. “Anytime he’s in the net, he’s poised, he’s calm and he’s making the saves. When you have a goalie that’s rolling like that, it just breeds confidence in the room.”
Bednar continued tinkering with the Avs’ lineup Thursday to rest injured players and provide fresh legs in a compact season. Bo Byram returned from a lower-body injury and replaced Dan Renouf on the third defensive pairing. Winger Logan O’Connor stepped in for Matt Calvert on the fourth line.
Prior to the game, Avalanche players donned warmups that honored the 10 people killed in a mass shooting on Monday at a King Soopers in Boulder. The name on the back of each sweater was replaced with “BOULDER STRONG” above the number 10. Avs players tapped their sticks on the ice after a moment of silence at the arena.
“We were heartbroken when we found out the news. It was just way too close to home,” Landeskog said. “Us wearing the jerseys, in the grand scheme of things, maybe doesn’t change a whole lot or mean much. But we just wanted to show our support. I think the jerseys will be donated and the money will be used to (help) the victims’ families.
“It’s just a little bit of something that we can do.”
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