For the first time since October, the Avalanche are first in the Western Conference.
Forward Mikko Rantanen scored two goals, helping the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center. Colorado (20-8-3) now has 43 points, one better than the St. Louis Blues with a game in hand.
“We had a really good start,” Rantanen said. “First period we were really good. Second period was no flow, really. Lots of whistles. But we battled through it, it wasn’t our best. The third period was still not our best, a little bit sloppy, but we found a way most importantly.”
The Avalanche scored early in the first as Matt Calvert picked up a rebound that had rung off the post and beat Flyers netminder Carter Hart to make it 1-0.
The Flyers controlled the second period. They had the first 11 shots of the frame but were unable to solve Colorado’s goalie Pavel Francouz. Rantanen eventually added a late goal off a feed from center Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche were outshot 17-5 in the second but Francouz held them off the board.
“They tried to come back,” Francouz said. “I think a huge part of this game was that we stayed patient, we didn’t panic. We tried to keep them out of the zone, we blocked a lot of shots and then we scored the second goal and that was huge for us.”
Rantanen added another goal in the third, this time receiving a pass from forward Nazem Kadri from behind the net. Rantanen played the majority of the night with Kadri at center and Gabe Landeskog on the left-wing as Avs coach Jared Bednar flipped his top two centers from the opening faceoff.
“It’s nice to have the depth options,” Bednar said. “If someone is having an off night and someone else is having a good night we can jumble some things around.”
The Avs are finally sporting a healthy forward lineup. Other than Colin Wilson, who is out long-term after having surgery, the Avalanche’s forwards are the healthiest they’ve been all season. Nazem Kadri returned, centering a line with Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog. MacKinnon centered a line with Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky, leaving Valeri Nichushkin, Matt Nieto, Matt Calvert, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to round out the bottom six.
Barring any trade acquisitions, this may very well be the 12-man unit Colorado relies upon in the playoffs.
Still without Makar, Johnson, and Grubauer, Avalanche shut down the Flyers offense. The Avs are without two of their biggest minute-munching defenseman in Cale Makar and Erik Johnson. They are also missing starting goalie Philipp Grubauer. Despite the injuries, Colorado held the Flyers to just eight shots in the third period to secure the win.
Philadelphia entered tonight’s game with 33 goals over its past nine games, two less than the Avalanche. The Flyers were 7-1-1 during the stretch.
Speaking of Francouz, how about the season he’s putting together? Tonight’s victory pushes the second-year Av to 8-2-1. Francouz has not lost in regulation since Nov. 2 and leads the Avalanche in save percentage and goals-against average this season.
The Ryan Graves plus/minus tear continues. After finishing plus-1 on Wednesday, Graves increased his consecutive streak of positive games to eight games. Graves continues to lead the NHL with a plus-23 rating.
Stat of the Night
Rantanen has appeared in 15 games. In the 14 he has finished without an injury, Colorado is 12-0-2. Rantanen has eight goals and 20 points.