The top two teams in the Western Conference slugged it out at Ball Arena on Saturday in a match-up that lived up to the hype.
The Central-Division leading Avalanche fell 4-3 in overtime to the Pacific Divison’s top team, the Calgary Flames, in the first of three meetings between the two powerhouses in March.
The game had seven goals, a goaltending change for the home team, multiple lead changes, big hits, great plays and even an old-fashioned fight between two of the NHL’s last remaining brutes. But Calgary drew first blood in the season series, thanks to an overtime game-winner from forward Johnny Gaudreau.
“Good hockey game for sure,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said. Two good teams and it comes down to overtime and comes on a breakaway. Didn’t go our way but I thought we battled hard and play well.”
The Avs fell to 40-11-5 and were held without a win in consecutive games for the first time in four months.
“I thought we created some turnovers and some really good scoring chances,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “Just couldn’t find a way to put them in the net.”
Backup goalie Pavel Francouz stopped all 21 shots he faced in regulation before the overtime winner. Francouz entered the game early in the second period, replacing starter Darcy Kuemper, who was pulled after allowing three goals on 15 shots. Kuemper was also called for a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. Calgary scored on the ensuing power play.
Colorado was trailing 3-2 at the time of the change but also had a slow start to the second period.
“We picked up our game right away and we started playing in their zone,” Francouz said of his relief appearance. “It’s kind of a cliche but what coach meant to do was fire us up. And that was exactly what happened.”
Colorado stormed out to an early lead on the first shift of the game. Landeskog finished a sequence that saw both Valeri Nichushkin and Nazem Kadri, get a shot on goal before he cleaned up the rebound with his 30th of the season.
Nichushkin returned after missing two games and had two points. He also assisted on Colorado’s second goal from winger Andre Burakovsky.
Bednar paired Nichushkin on the second line alongside his usual center in Kadri but with Landeskog on the other wing. The trio was matched up for a majority of the night against Calgary’s top line of Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Gaudreau.
“I thought they did a fabulous job against that line and still created a ton of chances,” Bednar said.
Tied at 2-2 in the second period, the Flames pulled ahead off what seemed like a harmless shot from the point from defense Erik Gudbrandson — which led to the goaltending change for the Avs.
The only other goal in regulation came from Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon. He tied the game at 3-3 midway through the middle frame with his 17th of the season.
MacKinnon’s tally came nearly three minutes after Kurtis MacDermid and Flames forward Milan Lucic dropped the gloves in a marathon tilt in the Avalanche’s zone.
It was MacDermid’s fifth fight of the season and fourth in front of Avs fans at Ball Arena.
“Two big men going at it. That was a good fight,” Landeskog said. “Dermy isn’t scared of anybody and Looch is one of the toughest guys in the league if not the toughest guy over the last decade or so. So that was good. It got us going. Dermy does his job and fired up the bench and the guys fed off of that.”
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif