Rantanen’s hat-trick leads Avs over New Jersey

Jan 4, 2020; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) looks for the puck after a save by New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29) during the third period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche continued its dominance over the Eastern Conference on Saturday, scoring the first three goals and defeating the New Jersey Devils 5-2. The Avs improved to 11-2-2 against the East—where they will play their next two games in a back-to-back starting Monday.

Avs forward Mikko Rantanen scored the first goal for Colorado, one-timing a setup from center Nathan MacKinnon in the second period. His first of three on the night gave the Avalanche a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the evening.

After defenseman Ian Cole added another tally in the second, the Avs scored again just eight seconds into the third to make it 3-0. MacKinnon cleanly won the faceoff—where Colorado has struggled all season—back to rookie Cale Makar, who skated up the boards, escaped a hit, and fed Rantanen for this second of the evening.

The tally matched an Avalanche record for the fastest goal to start a period, matching a feat by former Av Antti Laaksonen nearly 14 years ago.

The teams exchanged shorthanded goals in the high-scoring third period before an empty-netter from Rantanen completed the hat-trick.

Takeaways

Girard is on fire. In the matter of three games, Avs defenseman Sam Girard has seen his offensive production this season evolve from disappointing to spectacular. After recording two more assists on Saturday—his third straight multi-point effort—Girard has now set up eight goals in his last three games.

Girard is the only Avalanche defenseman to appear in all 42 games this season and has recorded one goal and 22 points in the process. He is five points away from matching his career-high in points from a season ago.

MacKinnon continues to climb. Similar to Girard, MacKinnon has also recorded eight points in three Avalanche games this week. After his two-assist performance, MacKinnon is now up to 64 points in 42 games. The two-time Central Division All-Star captain is one point back of both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton for the NHL points-scoring race. MacKinnon has two games in hand on both and leads the league in points per game with 1.52.

Another win for Grubauer. After a four-week stretch where Grubauer overcame an injury and some disappointing losses at the Pepsi Center, the second year Avalanche goalie has now won two consecutive games. Grubauer is 12-9-3 on the season and is just six wins back of his career-high in wins which he set with the Avs last season.

Avs coach Jared Bednar said he will split Grubauer and backup Pavel Francouz in the upcoming back-to-back.

Colorado will continue its road trip at 5 p.m. on Monday against the New York Islanders.

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