Avalanche defense stymies Dallas to force Game 7

Sep 2, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin (35) during the third period in game six of the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

This was not the plan.

When third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson was acquired by the Avalanche at the Feb. 24 trade deadline from Toronto, the plan was to provide depth at the position — not win Games 5 and 6 in the Western Conference semifinal to force a decisive Game 7.

But that unlikely scenario has become a reality after he backstopped a 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 on Wednesday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Colorado surrendered the first goal and went 0-for-5 in 10 uninspiring minutes on the power play, but scored four straight to tie the series at 3-3 and force Game 7 on Friday.

Hutchinson stopped 27 shots, including all nine in the third period to remain perfect in the playoffs (2-0) and with the Avs (3-0).

“He’s an easy guy to cheer for,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said.

Defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Cale Makar, and All-Stars Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon scored for the league-leading Avalanche offense in the come-from-behind victory. It was the first game all series where the winner did not score five goals. And the first time a team only surrendered one goal against.

The Avalanche have allowed four goals in two victories while facing elimination.

“I’d rather win 2-1 than 5-4, especially this time of the year,” MacKinnon said. “We were one of the best defensive teams this regular-season, people don’t really realize that. We really take pride in that. It starts with Bedsy, he preaches it. And all of the guys buy into that.”

Hutchinson, a 30-year-old journeyman, is the only goaltender with a save percentage above .900 in this series after stopping 61-of-65 shots (.938) since appearing in relief of Pavel Francouz with 9:21 remaining in Game 4.

“He’s been doing all the right things since he joined our club,” Bednar said. “For him to be able to step in and do what he’s done for us the last couple of games is nothing short of amazing. He deserves all the credit, he’s kept himself ready.”

Colorado lost 21-year-old defenseman, Conor Timmins, in the second period and captain Gabe Landeskog played one shift in the final frame after Makar’s skate cut him right above the right knee. The Avs and their five healthy defensemen held Dallas to just nine shots in the third period which included the Stars’ lone power play.

“I don’t know exactly what his status is,” Bednar said of Landeskog.

Zadorov tied the game for Colorado just 1:53 after Miro Heiskanen scored to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. The Avalanche took the lead in the second when Makar tracked down the rebound off a shot from teammate Sam Girard and fired it past Stars goalie Anton Khudobin.

Makar’s fifth of the season and 15th point of the playoffs broke the NHL’s record for points by a rookie defenseman in one postseason.

“He’s really mature for his age,” Bednar said. “It has a lot to do with his upbringing. He’s willing to work for every opportunity that he gets. He’s just a smart intelligent player. He understands the game.”

Colorado had a chance to add to the lead in the second after going on its fifth power play but was unable to capitalize for the 11th straight time with the man-advantage. Instead, the Avs extended their lead to two goals after MacKinnon forced a turnover off an aggressive forecheck and quickly fed Rantanen for the one-timer.

MacKinnon added an empty netter to record his 25th point after extending his playoff point streak to 14 games.

“In terms of Game 7, it’s my third one. I haven’t even won one yet,” MacKinnon said. “I’m looking to change that and I’m excited for the challenge. It’s going to be the toughest game for us to win but I think we’ve created some momentum for our team. We’re looking for the same effort and same responsibility tonight. A little bit of a better start but we’re happy with our defensive game.”

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