Pavel Francouz silences Edmonton’s stars in 4-0 Avalanche shutout victory

Jun 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) celebrates after his goal in the second period against the Edmonton Oilers in game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

No Kuemper, no problem. And it’s all thanks to Pavel Francouz. In one 60-minute effort, he silenced the critics and earned deafening “Frankie” chants from the Ball Arena crowd.

Without staring goalie Darcy Kuemper, who was pulled two nights ago following an upper-body injury, the Avalanche turned to their backup goalie and were rewarded with an exceptional performance between the pipes in Game 2 on Thursday.

Francouz stopped all 24 shots to silence the critics, shutting out the Oilers and helping the Avs to a 4-0 victory at Ball Arena. Colorado pulled ahead 2-0 in the Western Conference final and is just two wins away from its first Stanley Cup Final berth in 21 years.

“We didn’t stop playing this time in the third, we kept going and kept forechecking and staying on the puck in the o-zonem,” Mikko Rantanen said of Colorado’s ability to close out the game. “I think that was the big difference.”

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Nazem Kadri and the second line took center stage in the second period. In the matter of 2:04, a scoreless contest suddenly shifted toward the Avalanche’s favor in a big way.

First, a goal from second-line winger Artturi Lehkonen, tipping in a shot from Kadri to make it 1-0. Lehkonen started the play with his tenacious forecheck, causing the turnover that led directly to the goal. Just 15 seconds later, defenseman Josh Manson fired it past goalie Mike Smith to extend the lead. Lehkonen’s forechecking abilities once again led to a turnover, which ended up on Kadri’s stick, feeding Manson for the goal.

“He’s a workhorse, he never quits on the plays, he’s a really good forechecker,” Bednar said of Lehkonen. “He goes to the net and he’s not scared of any slashes or cross-checks.”

And shortly thereafter, Kadri connected on the 2-on-1 with his other winger Mikko Rantanen to make it 3-0. Edmonton had called a timeout following Manson’s tally to calm things down but was unsuccessful.

Francouz was a calming presence for Colorado in an otherwise rowdy game. The Avalanche were once again dominating through two periods. Despite the shots being 26-19 for the Avs, the chances favored them substantially.

Colorado generated 14 chances off the rush to just four for the opposition. The Avs also had a 15-5 advantage in shots from the slot and 7-4 in odd-man rushes.

But whenever the Oilers had an opportunity to climb back in, Francouz held his own. His calm demeanor was a huge factor in one of his better plays of the evening, where he confidently poke checked the puck away from Darnell Nurse on the rush before he could sneak the puck to his backhand.

“I think that’s his personality,” Bednar said of Francouz’s calmness. “Kind of saw it on the ice tonight. It’s a big moment, he knows the magnitude of it coming into a playoff series like this.”

Colorado held the Oilers to just five shots in the final period, outshooting them 39-24 overall.

The top two point producers in the postseason — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as well as leading goal-scorer Evander Kane, were all relatively quiet for the Oilers. The trio had just eight shots and were each a minus-1. In Game 1, they scored two goals, had seven points and were paramount in nearly helping the Oilers erase a four-goal deficit.

“They were fantastic tonight, setting gaps,” Bednar said of his top defensive pair consisting of Cale Makar and Devon Toews, who were tasked with shutting down the Oilers’ top line. “Just getting up and not giving them any room to move on the rush coverage.”

In the opening period, both teams exchanged opportunities seemingly right from the opening faceoff. The Avs squandered an opportunity to gain an early lead after failing to generate much on a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage. They also couldn’t capitalize on a third power play in the same period and were 0-for-4 throughout the night. They also killed off both Oilers’ man-advantage opportunities.

The series shifts to Edmonton for Game 3 on Saturday, where the Avs will look to gain a stranglehold of the series. Colorado is 5-0 on the road in the playoffs. The Oilers have won each of their last three home games and are 4-2 overall.

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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

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