The Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog line hasn’t been in any discussions for the best line in hockey by any national pundits this season, but after Friday night’s 7-1 win over the Minnesota Wild, they are sure to gain the attention and respect they’ve deserved all year long.
With a total of ten points between the three first-liners — five of which from Nathan MacKinnon — the Avalanche dominated a Wild team who were on the second night of a back-to-back game after losing in Arizona the night before.
“When you play that long time together — since the end of October or something — the chemistry comes kind of automatically,” Rantanen said on his line’s success. “Of course we like to talk before the games and in the middle of the game about what we are going to do on the ice. It’s just two great players helping me so it’s a lot of fun to play with.”
Nathan MacKinnon has been on a tear as of late, scoring 15 points in the last six games including his 30th and 31st goals Friday night in Denver.
“I think you could say that,” MacKinnon said on his line playing their best hockey of the year. “I thought we had a pretty solid road trip, we definitely need to improve on the road — we’ve been doing our thing at home for a while now.”
“We had a little break from each other when I got hurt, I guess. Coming back with one another we picked up where we left off. Tonight was a fun one.”
Both teams began the game with a handful of scoring chances but goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Devan Dubnyk were able to keep the puck out of their respective nets for the first 9:42 of the game.
A Mikko Rantanen wrist shot from the point which was deflected in front of the Wild net by Gabe Landeskog opened the night’s scoring and the Avalanche never looked back. Nathan MacKinnon would add a power-play goal — also assisted by Mikko Rantanen — and Colorado headed into the dressing room after the first period with a 2-0 lead and a lot of confidence.
“They are on a back-to-back, so it’s tough, so I think we kinda pounced on some heavy legs maybe,” MacKinnon stated. “We’ve been really good at home, we are really comfortable. Obviously, Gabe’s [goal] got us going. I thought we had a lot of chances, we really got a lot of pucks to the net.”
“Nice seam pass from Mikko and I managed to catch a post and everything kind of went from there.”
The confidence they built from the first period carried over to the second, where an onslaught of Avalanche goals would make the rest of the evening an easy one for the home team.
Tyson Barrie began the wave of Avalanche goals at 5:54 into the second after burying a quick shot from the slot off of a zone entry led by MacKinnon. MacKinnon left a drop pass for Rantanen who then fed Barrie as he cut towards the net for the finish.
MacKinnon would be next to tally for the Avs after weaving through three Wild defensemen and throwing a soft wrister that squeaked through Dubnyk’s five-hole.
“I think I surprised him with a quick shot,” MacKinnon said. “I guess I’m hot, but I think that’s going in if I’m cold too. It was a quick shot and it surprised him through his legs.”
Carl Soderberg would then score a fortuitous goal off of a backhand from the hash marks along the boards and would force Wild coach Bruce Boudreau to hit the proverbial gong and pull Devan Dubnyk from the game.
Minnesota’s luck did not change with the goalie switch as Rantanen was able to score on Alex Stalock just two minutes after he entered the game. Rantanen’s goal was assisted by MacKinnon and Patrick Nemeth and Colorado led by the score of 6-0. Nemeth quietly ended with two assists on the night.
The Wild did end up scoring before the end of the second on a Mikko Koivu goal, but it would prove to be futile as it was the only Wild goal of the game.
The Avalanche scored one more goal before the final buzzer; this time from Matt Nieto, assisted by Blake Comeau and, you guessed it, Nathan MacKinnon for the final scoring play and MacKinnon’s 76th point this season.
MacKinnon passed Joe Sakic for points scored at home in a single season by a member of the Avalanche, he ended the night with his 56th point at home (23 goals, 33 assists). However, when he was asked about what it meant to him he responded with, “Not much. He’s got a stall reserved beside me for a reason. I’m a long way from that, but to be in the same company as Joe is obviously a compliment.”
The Avalanche continue to scratch and claw their way up the standings and will control their own fate with another crucial four-point Central Division game ahead when they host the Nashville Predators on Sunday afternoon at 1 pm.