It seemed like one of those nights where nothing was going the Avalanche’s way. Colorado hit four posts through two periods with just 16 shots on goal against an aggressive team in Columbus.
But the Avs would not let up. And in the third period, the Avalanche used two spectacular shots from their top two centermen to solve Columbus netminder Elvis Merzlikins and escape with a 2-1 victory.
Colorado (31-16-6) was outshot 16-6 in the final period and 32-22 overall against a team that had lost just twice in regulation over its last 24 games. Merzlikins was riding a personal eight-game winning streak and entered the game with two straight shutouts.
“They’re a really tight defensive team,” center Nathan MacKinnon told reporters in Columbus. “it’s tough to play against them. They don’t take a ton of chances off the rush. We knew that coming in.”
MacKinnon scored the second Avalanche goal with 4:44 remaining in regulation. MacKinnon set up for a one-timer from beyond the left circle, receiving a pass from captain Gabe Landeskog and one-timing it over Merzlikins and into the net. the goal came almost four minutes after the tying goal from Nazem Kadri. His 19th of the season was a remarkable individual effort as he came across the slot, settled the puck, and fired it past the goalie to tie the game in the third.
Colorado held the lead until the end thanks to goalie Philipp Grubauer, who made 31 saves, including 16 in the third period, to record his third straight victory. Grubauer has stopped 79-of-82 shots during the Avalanche’s three-game winning streak.
“They play really good defensively,” Grubauer told reporters. “It was a little bit frustrating for us. But we stuck to the system, it was a big team effort, and we got two huge points against a really good team.”
Grubauer is playing his best hockey of the season. Despite winning four straight games to start the season and posting another three-game winning streak after Thanksgiving, this current stretch of play feels different for the Avalanche’s starting goalie. After a forgettable performance in Philadelphia last Saturday, Grubauer has given up just one goal in each of the past three games. While Buffalo and Ottawa may sit near the bottom of the league standings, both teams average over three goals per game at home. Grubauer’s performance on Saturday, most notably before the Avalanche scored to tie the game, was perhaps one of his best of the season.
Colorado matches Columbus defensively. The Blue Jackets have the second-best goals-against average in the NHL, surrendering just 2.41 goals against per game. The Avalanche, a top-ten defensive team, were able to limit Columbus’ chances in the early going, only conceding a goal on the penalty kill.
Colorado’s road trip ends in Minnesota. The Avalanche will take its 3-1 road trip record into Minnesota on Sunday. Colorado is 3-4-1 on the second of a back to back and 1-2 against the Wild this season.