The race for the final spots in the Western Conference playoff scene is as tight, with little margin for error. On Thursday night at Pepsi Center, the Colorado Avalanche had a chance to gain some ground on the teams hovering around them in the standings, but failed to do so in a decisive, anti-climactic meeting with the Los Angeles Kings, who blew them out, 7-1.
“I just think we got outworked tonight,” captain Gabe Landeskog said on the loss. “We didn’t execute and pucks didn’t bounce our way.”
Colorado, who held a one-point lead over the Kings going into the game, gave up a precious couple of points, but did not give up their hold of the first wild-card position. With the win, the Kings swap places with the Anaheim Ducks, who were in the third place of the Pacific Division and now have the same amount of points as the Avalanche but lose the regulation/overtime win tie-breaker.
“That’s a positive,” Landeskog said on not giving up the first wild-card spot. “I think at this point, we aren’t looking at where we are going to finish. We’ve got eight games to go and we know it’s just going to get harder from here. No one is going to hand you any points. We are going to reset and get ready for Saturday.”
The Avalanche started the game on the right foot, scoring the first goal of the night at 3:33 into the game. The goal came off of a chaotic scramble around Jonathan Quick that allowed Mikko Rantanen to capitalize on his 27th goal of the season and extend his point streak to eight consecutive games. However, the 1-0 lead quickly disappeared and would be Colorado’s final lead of the game.
“When you score the first goal you think you have a hot start, but nothing happened after that,” Rantanen said. “It wasn’t good enough from any of the lines today.”
Rantanen has scored 24 points in his last 13 games, only going scoreless in the 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago.
The Kings answered Rantanen’s goal just 55 seconds later and ended with three first-period goals; one by Anze Kopitar off of a Nikita Zadorov turnover behind the net, one by Jake Muzzin after a clean faceoff win, and another from Kopitar on the power play. The score was then 3-1 in Los Angeles’ favor and the odds were significantly against the Avalanche to win.
The Avalanche were close to scoring in the first minute of the second period when Nathan MacKinnon hit the crossbar, but Colorado’s misfortunes continued. Tobias Reider found himself on the fortuitous side of another Zadorov turnover — this time in the neutral zone — and Reider was in all alone on Semyon Varlamov and beat the Avs goaltender on the blocker side.
With 7:33 left in the second period, Anze Kopitar scored his third goal of the game, sending hats flying onto the Pepsi Center ice — and sending Varlamov to the dressing room, ending his evening after allowing five goals on 20 shots faced.
The Kings held the 5-1 lead going into the second intermission and the game, which was seemingly over after MacKinnon’s unlucky shot off the crossbar in the second period, was well out of reach for the Avs.
“I don’t really care about the hats at all,” Rantanen said, on the feeling of seeing opponents’ hats fly onto their home ice during such a pivotal game. “It’s about losing. If you lose 2-1 or 7-1, it doesn’t really matter, you get zero points. We didn’t get the two points and that’s disappointing, but we have to reset and forget this game as fast as we can.”
In the third period, the story would be no different. A careless Tyson Barrie pass led to a turnover in the offensive end by Anze Kopitar, who skated all the way down and scored his fourth of the game — the first time he’s ever scored four in one game — and extended his career high in goal scoring.
Tobias Reider later scored to make it a dismal 7-1 final.
Colorado now has eight games remaining, six of which are against teams currently in the playoff picture. If Thursday night was any indication, the Avalanche still have a tough mountain to climb to reach the postseason. They’ll host the Vegas Golden Knight on Saturday afternoon in a game that became even more important tonight than it did Thursday morning.