The Avalanche played a near-perfect first period in Game 2 on Monday. But that, and their opportunity to tie the series at 1-1, was shattered in a 9:20 stretch in the second period.
Leading 2-0 off of power-play goals from all-stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, Colorado surrendered four goals the middle period, including two in 44 seconds on consecutive penalties to drop Game 2 and fall into an 0-2 series deficit against the Dallas Stars in the second round at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Colorado outshot Dallas 20-6 in the first period. But Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin kept it a one-goal game and finished the evening with 38 saves.
“It’s a seven-game series for a reason,” Avs captain Gabe Landeskog said. “We feel more than anything that we’re in this thing. We’ve been up 2-0 before and we know how quick it can turn and all of a sudden it’s a tied series. It’s a seven-game series for a reason and there’s no quit in this group.”
After frustrations began to set in for Dallas, the “road team” drew a penalty that sent Colorado’s Sam Girard to the box for slashing. Moments later, his defensive partner Ian Cole was whistled for cross-checking, giving the Stars an extended 5-on-3 man advantage.
Dallas quickly capitalized and then added another power-play tally on the Cole penalty to tie the game.
“We got the game in our hands there through the first 30 minutes of the game,” Landeskog said. “They get a power play and then a soft call to give them a 5-on-3 for almost two minutes. Obviously they capitalized and it’s a 2-2 hockey game after that.”
The ensuing minutes saw the Avalanche draw two penalties and go on a two-man advantage of their own. The Stars killed both, took control of the game and continued to create offense.
To make matters worse for Colorado, The game-winning goal came off of a fortunate bounce for the Stars. Captain Jamie Benn fed a pass across the middle of the ice. The puck bounced up off of Girard then Stars forward Alexander Radulov and arched over goalie Pavel Francouz and into the net.
Francouz made 22 saves in his first start of the series following the injury to Philipp Grubauer.
The tally came 4:57 after the game-tying goal And was followed up by a controversial play that opened up a two-goal lead for Dallas.
After failing to capitalize on the power play, Colorado’s Joonas Donskoi turned the puck over to Stars defenseman Esa Lindell. The Finnish blueliner skated into the Avs zone and fired the puck at Francouz before whacking at the goaltender’s pad and the puck numerous times and erupting into a celebration for scoring a goal.
The referee behind the play, Dan O’Rourke, signaled that a goal had been scored.
A lengthy review from the NHL war room in Toronto followed. The evidence that the puck had crossed the line was inconclusive. But since the call on the ice was a good goal, the league was unable to overturn the play.
“Dan is behind the net on the other side. I don’t know how he sees that the puck is across the line,” Avs captain Gabe Landeskog says. “I don’t know how he points at the net. I think he realized pretty quickly that he messed up. Once he starts watching the video replay I think he realizes he just went off of Esa Lindell’s reaction and pointed to the net. And then you can’t overturn it if there’s no evidence. We haven’t gotten an explanation and I’m excited to see what the explanation will be.”
Francouz and Avs coach Jared Bednar shared his sentiments on the play. But Colorado found itself in a 4-2 hole entering the third.
The Avs had two opportunities on the power play in the final frame but were unable to generate any scoring chances. This came on the heels of three consecutive calls against Dallas in the second period following the go-ahead goal.
“I think we got a little cute,” Bednar said of his team’s late power-play opportunities. “We started trying to force plays. We created some really good looks and good shooting opportunities on the power play up that point in the game. I think we got a little fancy and started looking to areas that weren’t opened. We tried forcing some pucks in and overhandling some pucks. We got a little bit away from our attack mentality and we wanted the pretty goal.”
The depth forwards that have played a large role in Colorado’s success all season long have been snakebitten in the early going of Round 2. MacKinnon, who extended his playoff point-streak to a franchise record-tying 10 games, has a point on all five Avalanche goals in the series.
Forwards Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Vladislav Namestnikov and Valeri Nichushkin have combined for one assist.
“I don’t have the answer for that, for where it has gone,” Bednar said of his depth players’ lack of scoring. “If I knew exactly where it was gone then I would have a better chance of grabbing the solution, even before tonight. We had some depth scoring that got us through the Arizona series. It’s gone away a little bit. We have some guys that normally give us that scoring that have been fighting it a little bit. I think our intentions are right but some guys are questioning themselves a little bit. If we had more of it we probably won’t be in an 0-2 whole but we are.”