The intensity was high, the goaltending was strong and the game-winning goal sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The Avalanche fought to the finish, coming away with a 2-1 victory to complete a two-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues on Saturday thanks to a last-minute goal from Cale Makar and 27 saves from goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
With under a minute left in regulation and the Avalanche pressuring the Blues, the puck found Makar at the point. The defenseman was able to beat his man and fire a seeing-eye shot that made its way past the traffic and beating Blues goalie Ville Husso with just 41 seconds remaining.
“We’ve been talking about getting shots through all night,” Makar said of his goal. “Our forwards have been doing a great job of just getting pucks to us. Luckily I was able to just get around a guy.”
Colorado is now 12-0-2 in its last 14 games as it embarks on a four-game road trip.
“St. Louis came out and they were ready to play,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Middle of the first period we started finding our legs a little bit. We were able to get on the boards first. It was a tight-checking game. We haven’t played a game like that in a little bit.”
Makar’s fourth of the year and second game-winner gave the Avs a four-point cushion on the Vegas Golden Knights in the West Division standings. Vegas lost 2-1 to Minnesota on Saturday.
“We’re in a fight and a race to try and get home ice and put ourselves in the best possible position we can for the playoffs and our guys are taking that to heart,” Bednar said. “They’re coming out every night with the right mindset and attitude and desire to win the hockey game. I expect that to continue here down the stretch.”
St. Louis came out strong to start, outshooting the Avs 7-0. But Colorado eventually found its footing and started to press. It was Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon that opened the scoring.
MacKinnon received a pass from captain Gabe Landeskog and fired it past Husso from the right circle. But it was the initial pass from the other end from defenseman Devon Toews that started the play.
“We wanted him to look to the middle of the ice a little bit,” Bednar said of Toews’ pass. “He did and saw Landy. Whenever you can feed the puck out to Nate with that kind of speed coming through the neutral zone, good things are going to happen.”
Grubauer’s victory was his NHL-leading 23rd of the season and third consecutive win.
He and Husso exchanged quality saves throughout the game. Grubauer was especially strong on the penalty kill, making a big save on former Av Ryan O’Reilly, who scored the lone Blues goal in the first period to tie the game.
At the other end, Husso stopped a breakaway on Avs forward Nazem Kadri in the second period.
The teams exchanged chances when they were able to break through the opposing defense. The Avalanche had another breakaway in the first period when Mikko Rantanen broke in all alone. Rantanen made one too many moves and ended up shooting the puck over the net on his backhand.
Colorado was also 3-for-3 on the PK but failed to capitalize on either of its four power plays, including a lengthy 5-on-3 in the second.
As the intensity picked up, so too did the hate between these clubs. In the second period, newly-signed Avs forward Liam O’Brien and Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo dropped the gloves along the boards at center ice.
The spirited bout came on the heels of a Jaden Schwartz penalty for goalie interference for St. Louis.
“That’s part of it,” Bednar said when asked about O’Brien playing a role as an agitator. “He’s highly competitive. Our pro scouts watched him and really like him. It’s that grit and determination and you can see the effect he’s having on the forecheck.”
Saad takes a tumble: Avs forward Brandon Saad was hurt late in the game after getting hit with a shot from Toews in front of the crease. Saad was helped off the ice favoring his right leg but returned to the game after a short trip to the locker room.
MacKinnon passes Forsberg: MacKinnon’s goal was his 203rd in an Avalanche uniform, passing Hall-of-Famer Peter Forsberg for fourth-most in club history. Forsberg also scored 15 goals with the Quebec Nordiques before the team relocated to Denver in 1995.
Avs sign Sampo Ranta: Prior to puck drop, Colorado announced the signing of forward Sampo Ranta to a three-year entry-level deal. The 78th overall pick in 2018 just completed his junior season with the Minnesota Gophers, recording 31 points in 31 games.