Avalanche ring in new year on right foot in overtime win over Winnipeg

Jan 2, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) scores the game winning goal on a shot in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche started 2018 victoriously with a win over the Central Division’s best team, the Winnipeg Jets, by the final score of 3-2 in overtime. Erik Johnson tallied the game-winner for Colorado giving the Avs their third win in a row and fifth in the last seven contests.

“It’s a big win for us,” coach Jared Bednar said following the game. “It’s a big win for us in the standings, it’s a big win for us because this is the top team in our division at this point.”

“I think our guys stuck with it. It wasn’t our fanciest game or best game of the year, but we did a good job. We had a lot of guys playing hard.”

The top line of Gabe Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen was at its best once again Tuesday night, scoring each of the two regulation goals for the Avalanche. MacKinnon put Colorado on the scoreboard first at 7:44 into the second period on an assist from Mikko Rantanen, and Rantanen would follow up with one of his own at 11:31 into the period off of an assist from Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs top guns had their team up 2-0 despite being outshot two to one for nearly the entire game.

About six minutes after Rantanen’s goal, the Avalanche made a goaltending switch as Semyon Varlamov exited the game with a lower-body injury after stopping all 21 shots he faced. Jonathan Bernier would play the remaining 29:55 of regulation and overtime, stopping 21 of 23 shots in the win.

“It’s not easy, obviously, you’re cold,” Bernier said on the goalie switch. “You just got to go in there and just focus on those small details — you know, keep position and beat the pass, things like that — but I felt pretty good right off the bat.”

Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler scored just 47 seconds into the third period making it a one-goal game with plenty of time left for Winnipeg to complete a comeback. However, the Avalanche were able to ward off the pressure for most of the period. That is until Blake Wheeler struck again, scoring off of a fortuitous bounce off of the boards with just 33 seconds left.

The puck was rimmed around the boards and caught Bernier off guard as he left the net in an attempt to stop the puck behind the net.

“I kind of waited until it came off the glass to make sure it didn’t hit the extension and hit the board on a funny bounce,” Bernier commented. “Those are funny bounce(s) you cant really control. You just have to focus and make sure you find a way to win.”

The game was tied at two and the Avalanche faced their eighth overtime game of the year. Each team tallied five shots on goal in the overtime and it appeared that a shootout was eminent until Erik Johnson finished the game on a breakaway with just ten seconds left on the clock.

“[Connor Hellebuyck] is one of the better goalies in the league,” Johnson said recounting his goal. “I was just trying to get a little elevation on it, put it low blocker. We have a scouting sheet over there before the game, that says were most of his goals go in — percentage — so high-blocker was one of those places.”

“It felt good to get the two points under the circumstances of how they tied it,” Johnson concluded.

The Avalanche have two games remaining in the current homestand, before their league-mandated bye week. Next up will be the Columbus Blue Jackets who come into Pepsi Center with a 23-15-3 record, fresh off a road win against the Dallas Stars.