DENVER — Known for his elite skill and crafty shooting, Andre Burakovsky had somehow never scored a hat trick in the NHL prior to Friday’s 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at Ball Arena.
And boy did it come at a great time.
Not only did Burakovsky give the Avs a 2-0 lead in an intense matchup between two of the league’s juggernauts, but he also followed it up with the game-winner shortly after Florida bounced back to tie the game at 2-2 in the third period.
“Obviously, it felt great, getting my first one,” said Burakovsky, who has five goals in two games. “Been having a couple of two-goal games, but never really came through with the hat-trick so it’s nice to get finally get one.
“I’m just happy to be producing for the team and help the team win games and today was a lucky day for me.”
Starting goalie Darcy Kuemper had the type of performance that serves as a reminder of why Colorado paid such a hefty price to acquire his services. Kuemper made 29 saves, 13 in the third period and a couple of massive ones in the final minute, to seal the victory.
“You just try to keep eyes on it,” Kuemper said of his saves at the end, where multiple players were crashing the crease all at once. “Obviously, the first step is finding it through traffic and then just tracking and trying to beat everyone there with your glove. The more whistles we can get, we can kind of get reset and back to our structure, control and slow things down. So just try to cover up as many as you can.”
Not only did Kuemper excel against the league’s best team, but he outdueled a goalie at the other end in Sergei Bobrovsky that had just one regulation loss before Friday. Bobrovsky fell to 12-2-2 thanks to Kuemper’s excellence in the Avalanche’s crease.
Kuemper improved to 12-5-0.
Erik Johnson saves the game
Kuemper wasn’t the only one making game-saving stops in the final minute. None of his were as big as Erik Johnson’s was with less than 15 seconds remaining. Johnson cleared Florida’s Patric Hornqvist from the crease and was able to shovel the puck under Kuemper just as it was sliding into the open net.
“When you have situations like that in the final minute, it’s all desperation,” Johnson said. “Those are the type of games that you need to win come playoff time.”
Kuemper added: “I actually thought that the puck was under me and I saw the replay that it was his stick. Save of the game for sure.”
In the chaos of the final minutes, we didn’t get to show you THIS.
EJ 🤝 Kuemps
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) December 13, 2021
Toews the leader
Defenseman Devon Toews has been riding the type of offensive hot streak that turns heads around the league. But let’s not forget just how great he is in his own zone. It’s how he makes a living.
The Avs were short a defenseman after Florida’s Ryan Lomberg knocked Jacob MacDonald out of the game early in the second period and Toews picked up most of the slack. He didn’t record a point in Colorado’s victory, but Toews led the way in ice time (29:14) — more than five minutes more than the next player (Cale Makar, 24:12).
He played almost five minutes on the penalty kill, which included the last minute of the game where Florida was pushing to tie the game with the goalie pulled.
“What he’s doing is really impressive to me and it doesn’t have to show up on the score sheet to be impressive,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Toews. “To be able to play this many games all the time and still rock out 29 minutes and then I go walking into the gym after the game he’s in the gym so I mean, this guy is not normal.”
Forward Mikko Rantanen assisted on each of Burakovsky’s goals on Friday. His first was the 200th of his career — a feat he accomplished in just 355 games. Rantanen has been the lead set-up man for superstar Nathan MacKinnon for the majority of his career before developing a more noticeable scoring touch in 2021. Since the start of last season, Rantanen has scored 42 goals and recorded 91 points in 72 games.
Jack Johnson: Hockey player
Defenseman Jack Johnson took a puck to the face in the first period and the play was halted for more than five minutes to clean his blood from the ice and Kuemper’s pad. He came back to finish the game with a gash near his lip.
“He’s gone getting stitched up and comes back and wants to still be part of the game,” Bednar said. “You know you’re not feeling good. Every time you breathe your mouth is hurt and your teeth are hurting and Jack comes back out and finishes the game.”
Johnson played 16:55 and was also crucial in the Avs’ defensive efforts in the last minute of the game. He was one of just five healthy defensemen to finish the night after MacDonald’s injury.
“Most guys go down with just a little stick to the face and he just stayed up and continued on,” Erik Johnson said. “It says a lot about how tough he is.”
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif