For the first time in 143 days, the Avalanche played meaningful hockey. And despite playing in front of no fans at a neutral site in Edmonton, it sure was exciting.
Center Nazem Kadri scored a power-play goal with 0.1 seconds remaining to complete the comeback and send Colorado to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues in the first game of the Western Conference round-robin. The regulation victory gives the Avs a crucial two-point lead on the defending Stanley Cup Champions with two games remaining before the playoffs.
“We had an outstanding first period,” Kadri said. “They’re a good team. That’s what good teams do they find a way to stay in hockey games. We felt that we could apply some pressure at the end. We play to the last whistle and that’s the reason why.”
Kadri was just the second player in NHL history to score a go-ahead playoff goal at 19:59 of the third period (Jussi Jokinen, 2009 with Carolina). The tally came on the Avalanche’s fifth power-play opportunity and completed a comeback that began earlier in the third frame.
“The power play at the end of the game was excellent,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “I loved our mentality. I think all of those guys had a shot. Both flanks, the middle man, Kadri had just missed. And then we ended up hitting the post and jumping on the rebound. Excellent power play I wish it looked like that every single opportunity. We caught them tired there a little bit and took advantage of it.”
Colorado trailed 1-0 heading into the final period before Ryan Graves scored to break the shutout bid for Jordan Binnington. The Blues had never lost in regulation when leading after 40 minutes all season.
“We feel that we can play with and beat anyone,” Bednar said. “If we didn’t feel that way then we shouldn’t be here. That game tonight could’ve gone either way. We had a really good start. I think they were the better team in the second, third was really exciting we traded chances. We were fortunate enough to come out on top today. The next challenge will be Vegas and Dallas.”
The Avalanche outshot St. Louis heavily in the first period. The 16-4 advantage made it clear that Colorado controlled play in the early going. But the Blues needed one shot on their first power-play opportunity to score the games’ first goal.
“They were doing exactly what they wanted to do,” Bednar added. “They get it over to Perron and it was a fantastic shot. I didn’t mind the position by (defenseman Erik) Johnson at all. He finds a way to elevate it over his leg and get it in the top corner on the far side.”
But from then on it was a goaltending battle until the final buzzer. Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer started in goal for the first time since an injury at the Stadium Series outdoor game in February. He made 31 saves, including two crucial saves on the penalty kill in the third, to earn his first win in nearly six months.
Grubauer and his backup Pavel Francouz are both expected to play in the round-robin portion of the schedule.
“He was excellent,” Bednar said of his goalie. “Perfect shot that beats him on the first one and after that he doesn’t give up anything. He’s a gamer and he made some big saves for us at the right times tonight in the third period for us when they got dangerous.”
the Avalanche will have three days off before playing the Dallas Stars on Wednesday. Dallas will open its round-robin play against Vegas on Monday.