Resilient Avalanche defeat Pittsburgh 3-2 in star-studded battle

Apr 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; A rebound bounces off of Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) as defenseman Cale Makar (8) defends against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) in the second period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Resiliency was the common theme among the Avalanche following their 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

The Avs led 1-0 and 2-1 but were resilient in their response each time Pittsburgh scored. After Sidney Crosby knotted the game at 1-1, Nicolas Aube-Kubel answered back just 20 seconds later. And after Mike Matheson’s late third-period tally to even the score again, Devon Toews put home the eventual game-winner for Colorado.

It was the type of performance that gave head coach Jared Bednar a sense of growth among his players.

“That’s big, not hanging your head. Just going out, moving on and taking care of what’s in front of you and not worrying about the past. It’s huge,” Bednar said. “It’s an area of growth for our team over the last few years.”

Mikko Rantanen also scored for the Avs, who improved to 8-5-0 in 13 meetings against the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams in a playoff position.

“I like the resiliency in our group today again,” Bednar said. “That’s becoming more and more frequent. I don’t see our team letting off the gas when things don’t go our way or things aren’t perfect. We’re not getting frustrated like we used to.”

Rantanen also added an assist while Nathan MacKinnon — playing in his second game since returning from an upper-body injury — had two helpers. Cale Makar led the way in ice-time, playing 28:19.

Without second-line center Nazem Kadri, the Avs’ top guns were able to outmatch Pittsburgh’s three-headed monster of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Crosby. The Penguins’ veteran core combined for two points.

“Right from the start both teams came into play,” Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper said. “The atmosphere obviously was incredible and it had a playoff feel to it. Those are the fun games to play.”

The trio was able to beat Kuemper on just one of 12 combined shots. Colorado was outshot 40-38 with Kuemper putting up an impressive 38 saves.

Bednar had J.T. Compher centering wingers Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nishushkin on the new-look second line. They were matched up against Crosby or Malkin for most of the day.

“That was the goal today, to be as hard to play against as possible,” Compher said. “We were getting some tough matchups with Malkin and Crosby and I thought we handled it pretty well for the most part.”

Lehkonen’s performance on the forecheck was paramount in keeping a high-scoring Pittsburgh team at bay for most of the game.

“He’s relentless, eh? that was his best game with us for sure,” Bednar said of Lehkonen. “We’ve seen Val for a long time. Reports from our management team was, you’re getting mini Val. And there are a lot of similarities there.”

Aube-Kubel’s second-period tally, a blast from above the circle that beat goalie Tristan Jarry clean, was his first goal since Feb. 13. Aube-Kubel hadn’t recorded a point since Feb. 19 and had an excelling showing in response to being a healthy scratch on Thursday.

“I talked to him before the scratch and told me he’s going to be the guy out and maybe not deservedly so,” Bednar said. “But his game is becoming more responsible.”

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Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

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