MacKinnon powers the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory over Vancouver

Feb 26, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrates his empty net goal with left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) in the third period against the Vancouver Canucks at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Pepsi Center has been very kind to Nathan MacKinnon this year, and it’s keeping the Avalanche in the playoff hunt.

The star forward powered the Avs to a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks with another three-point game, his 10th of the season. In 28 home games, MacKinnon now has 49 points. Those 49 points are a huge reason why the Avs have a 21-8-1 record at home, and why the team is only two points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand.

The Avalanche came out hot in the first period, outshooting the Canucks 11-9 and using their speed to create three power-play opportunities. While they were not able to capitalize on either of the first, the top line went to work late in their final man-advantage of the period.  After keeping the puck in the zone for an extended period of time, Nathan MacKinnon hit Mikko Rantanen with a beautiful saucer pass, and the Finnish winger made no mistake, burying the shot and giving the Avs a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

In the second period, it appeared that Rantanen had given the Avs a 2-0 lead after MacKinnon mesmerized the Canucks’ defense, but a challenge by the Canucks for goaltender interference negated the goal, putting the Avs right back to a one-goal lead. It was determined that in the process of crashing the net, Gabriel Landeskog’s stick impeded goaltender Jacob Markstrom’s progress and didn’t allow him to do his job. Neither team would bury a goal in the second, leaving the Avs with a 1-0 lead heading into the third.

While the Avs gave up some chances in the third period, goaltender Semyon Varlamov stayed strong in net, allowing the team to play with more confidence and continue to push up the ice. After Jake Virtanen hit the post for the Canucks, MacKinnon took an outlet pass from Landeskog, beat a defender wide, and beat Markstrom short-side with a heavy wrist shot to give the Avs a 2-0 lead. Things would get tight late, as Daniel Sedin would bring the Canucks within one after scoring a goal with Markstrom pulled, but only 30 seconds later, MacKinnon would put one into the empty net, sealing the victory for the Avs.

“We knew that we wanted to make sure to get off to a good start at this homestand,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said after the game. “We felt like we carried the momentum throughout the whole game and could have had a few more, but Markstrom played real well and made some big stops.”

While the Avs would love some secondary scoring to help win them some games, their top line is carrying them at home right now. The trio combined for six points on all three of the Avs goals, and wanted to bounce back after a tougher road trip.

“We weren’t happy with the way we played on the road trip,” Landeskog said. “We knew we got better than what we showed there, but tonight it was just a matter of making sure that we led the way.”

On Wednesday night, the Avalanche get another shot at the Calgary Flames, who they’re chasing for the final playoff spot in the West. The Flames beat the Avs handily on Saturday afternoon by a score of 5-1. The Flames play in Dallas Tuesday night, so the Avs will need to take advantage of a tired team on home ice. The game starts at 7:30 MST.

Five Observations:

  • Nikita Zadorov bounced back with a stronger performance after two straight games that both ended with a benching. He played 19 minutes, picked up an assist, and was a +1.
  • Although it’s only been four games since his most recent opportunity began, Duncan Siemens is sure making the most of it, and found himself on the ice late to protect the lead. He’s playing strong, physical, and not making mistakes with the puck, which may be the most important thing for him. These last 20 games will be very important in the career of the former first-round pick.
  • The Avs scored three goals, and only five players collected points on them. Secondary scoring still is an issue, as a lot of forwards beyond Tyson Jost are slumping.
  • Nathan MacKinnon ended the game with a ridiculous nine shot attempts in total. If the Avs sneak in the playoffs, he could very well win the Hart Trophy for MVP.
  • Semyon Varlamov bounced back from a less-than-stellar performance with 31 saves. Jonathan Bernier (concussion) is getting healthier, but this is Varly’s net for now, and they’ll need him to play strong.