Pepsi Center energy helps Avalanche extend streak in win over the Rangers

Jan 20, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) greets the crowd after the game against the New York Rangers at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In Colorado’s second matinee game in a week, the Avalanche extended their unbeaten streak to nine games in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers Saturday afternoon.

Despite the unorthodox 1:00 p.m. start time, the Avs came out of the gate flying, smothering the Rangers in their own zone and won the first-period shot count by a total of 12-5.

“Throughout this homestand, we’ve found a way to get ourselves going early and the crowd has a lot to do with that,” Avalanche alternate captain Erik Johnson said after the win. “They were buzzin’ right from the start and I think we picked up that energy from them. It feels good to have that type of atmosphere in the Pepsi Center, it was a lot of fun today.”

The credit for the strong start goes partially to the sell-out crowd of 18,056 and partially to Erik Johnson. With his sixth goal of the season, Johnson put the Avs on the scoreboard first, something they have accomplished in each of the nine games of their current streak.

“I kind of made myself available in the middle, then swung around and Mikko made a great play,” Johnson recounted. “We’ve been deadly scoring first so that was key.”

“When we play like that to start the game and the period, it puts teams on their heels and we’ve got enough goals to find a way to keep the lead and win the game.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Avalanche win without some scoring from Nathan MacKinnon who has been held pointless in only 14 games this season. Colorado now sits at 26-16-3 on the season and are 22-7-2 when MacKinnon finds himself on the point sheet and 4-9-1 when he doesn’t.

“If I was feeling pressure, I don’t think I would be producing like this at home,” MacKinnon said on feeling the need to carry the offensive load. “I think Gabe and Mikko and everyone else makes it really easy. I think we are top three or four in league scoring and that’s not just from me, that’s from everybody — our depth scoring, our D, every line.”

“Obviously, when [Jonathan Bernier] is playing as well as he is, it takes a lot of pressure off of us to score. I mean, if we score two, like tonight, we are going to win.”

Mikko Rantanen contributed with a multi-point game and Colorado’s third goal of the afternoon when he buried the puck on an empty net with a fraction of a second remaining in the game, good for his 16th goal of the year.

A winning culture and a positive energy are things that have lacked in the Avalanche dressing room in recent years, but, ahead of an arduous six-game road trip, the team could not have a better mindset than they do now.

“It’s fun to share this,” MacKinnon said. “Everyone is very close in the locker room and everyone has really good role-acceptance, which is really important for a winning team. It’s a lot of fun on the ice.”

The nine-game win streak ties Colorado’s second longest win streak in its history. The last team to do so was the 2000-01 Stanley Cup winners.

“That’s very impressive,” Erik Johnson said. “That team probably had five Hall-of-Famers on it. It just speaks to the commitment to team play that we’ve done.”

“If you look at our team on roster, I don’t think teams would be too nerve-wracked by it, but the way we are playing up and down the lineup — we are playing the same way, we are playing with pace — a lot of teams don’t have an answer for it right now.”

Colorado kicks off the road trip with back-to-back games in Canada, facing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday and the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

Puck drop Monday will be at 5 p.m. MST.

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