As injuries continue to test the Avalanche’s depth, it was the top line that was relied on heavily in a 3-1 win against the New York Islanders on Wednesday at Pepsi Center.
Colorado (34-18-7) was led by its top unit of Nathan MacKinnon, Andre Burakovsky and Gabe Landeskog, who each played over 20 minutes for the second consecutive game since Mikko Rantanen’s injury.
Burakovsky and Landeskog scored goals and MacKinnon assisted on both, becoming just the third Avalanche player to record 50 assists in three consecutive seasons (Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg each did it four times).
MacKinnon has played 49:15 over the past two games. His linemates, Landeskog (45:31) and Burakovsky (44:38) have also seen a meteoric rise in their ice-time.
“Right now we’re just trusting our top forwards,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “But also trusting our depth. Moving forward everyone needs to continue to play their roles and we’ll see where that takes us.”
The Avalanche had 41 seconds remaining on the man-advantage to start the second period. Just as the penalty to Anders Lee expired, Burakovsky fired a shot glove side past former Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov to make it 2-0. The eventual game-winner was Burakovsky’s 20th of the season, the second Av to reach the mark this season after MacKinnon.
Colorado added to its lead in the third period. After Makar circled the offensive zone, drawing a penalty in the process, he fed the puck to partner Ryan Graves, who quickly gave it to Mackinnon at the blueline. The Avalanche’s leading scorer fired the puck towards the crease, where Landeskog was standing for the tip-in to make it 3-0.
It proved to be an important goal for a team that has struggled to close out games late in the third period.
“In an ideal world that’s what you do,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “You come out, you start the third and keep after it and you get a goal to put the game somewhat out of reach. You know they were going to make a push in the third period.”
New York started to press offensively, eventually scoring a goal to end goaltender Pavel Francouz’s shutout bid with 2:14 remaining. Francouz finished with 27 saves in the victory, which was more important to him than recording his first career shutout.
“Unfortunately we got scored on with two minutes left,” Francouz said. “But it doesn’t mean anything. I’m really happy we won and that’s the most important thing.”
Colorado’s NHL-best 38th first goal of the game came from Joonas Donskoi at 9:07 of the first period. Donskoi, playing on Colorado’s second unit with J.T. Compher and Valeri Nichushkin, had not scored since January 2 before redirecting a point shot from Makar to make it 1-0.
“The Compher, Nichushkin and Donskoi line, they were outstanding,” Bednar said. “Especially to start the game. Some other guys stood out to me too but that line to me was really good.”
Varlamov received a tribute and an ovation in the first period. The former Avalanche netminder waved his stick in appreciation to the sold-out crowd. … Makar’s two assists give him 45 points on the season, two behind Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes in rookie scoring. Makar has played eight less games than Hughes. … MacKinnon, Landeskog, Burakovsky, and Makar each finished with a plus-2 rating. … Francouz recorded his first victory in three decisions to improve to 14-5-3. … The Avalanche’s 2018 first-round draft pick Martin Kaut played 7:47 in his NHL debut.
1. Cale Makar: Played a large role in all three goals, recording two assists.
2. Nathan MacKinnon: Also had two assists to reach 84 points, which ties him with Boston’s David Pastrnak for second in the NHL scoring race.
3. Andre Burakovsky: The game-winning goal early in the second period gave Colorado an important two-goal lead against a team that has struggled to score in recent games.
Colorado travels to California for a consecutive-night stretch starting Friday in Anaheim. The Avs play the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.