It was vital for the Avalanche not to go winless on their three-game road trip. They not only gain two points in a playoff race against Minnesota — where at times it feels like neither team has been able to grab a hold of third place in the Central Division. But it also ensures they won’t have the same type of sluggish stretch they did coming out of the holiday break in December.

Following an overtime loss to Pittsburgh and a brutal showing in Tampa Bay, Colorado bounced back in Florida, defeating the Panthers 5-4 at FLA Live Arena on Saturday.

The Avs (28-19-4) pulled two points ahead of the Wild, who have lost three straight games in regulation. With a 7-1-0 stretch heading into the break, the Avalanche now find themselves 8-2-1 in their past 11 — trailing the Winnipeg Jets by five points with a game in hand for second place in the division. The Jets take on the Chicago Blackhawks late Saturday night.

Superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon led the charge with two goals and an assist. Fellow All-Star Mikko Rantanen and center J.T. Compher both finished with two helpers. Colorado also had goals from Logan O’Connor, Matt Nieto and Devon Toews. O’Connor’s tally snapped a 38-game scoreless drought.

Goalie Alexandar Georgiev made a whopping 42 saves despite surrendering three goals. Colorado outshot Florida 50-45 as both goalies saw a lot of shots come their way. Georgiev (21-12-3) has won four of his last five starts, bouncing back from a tough 5-0 Avalanche loss at Tampa Bay two nights ago. He was also in goal for Colorado on Jan. 10 when they hosted the Panthers at Ball Arena and lost 5-4 in another high-scoring affair.


Offense finds its stride

Perhaps one of the more alarming stats surrounding the defending Stanley Cup champs has been their inability to score at the pace expected of them. The Avs entered the matchup in Florida as the 24th-ranked team in goals per game (2.96). Colorado has finished among the top ten in goals per game for each of the past five seasons — including top-5 finishes over the past three years.

Goals are what make this team great.

Their offense started to find its stride prior to the All-Star break, but they managed just one goal in two games to start the road trip. The five-goal outburst against the Panthers — and four past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — were crucial for the Avs heading into a rematch against the Lightning at Ball Arena on Tuesday.

Successful special teams

You often want to rely on 5-on-5 scoring to win games. The Avs, who were one of the worst teams at even strength for most of the first part of the season, have found their way on that front. But special teams have still been hot and cold. In the eight-game stretch before the break, their power play and penalty kill were both sporting solid numbers. But that fell by the wayside in Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Against the Panthers, the Avs were the greater team at special teams. And in a game like this, which was decided by one goal before the empty netter from MacKinnon, winning the special teams battle is often the difference. the Avalanche were 1-for-3 on the power play thanks to the eventual game-winner from MacKinnon. They were also a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill in a full eight minutes of shorthanded time.

They even added a shorthanded goal for good measure.

Erik Johnson hurt

As has been the theme throughout the entire season, the Avalanche continue to lose players just as others find their back into the lineup. Colorado started the week with good news on the injury front, as both forward Valeri Nichushkin and defenseman Bowen Byram rejoined the lineup. Nichushkin had a minor injury that saw him miss a handful of games but Byram’s return was his first game in more than three months.

Against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, superstar defenseman Cale Makar was hurt following a questionable hit from Pittsburgh forward Jeff Carter. Two nights later, forward Evan Rodrigues left after taking a puck up high and needing stitches. He returned tonight, but Colorado ended up losing veteran blueliner Erik Johnson to an injury early in the first period. Johnson blocked a shot and was noticeably in pain as he skated off to the Avalanche dressing room.

It’s unclear at this time if his injury is severe, or if he’ll miss any more games. Johnson is one of five skaters, joining Alex Newhook, O’Connor, Rantanen and Compher, to have played in each of the Avs’ 51 games this season.