“We’re not losing that easy.” The Avalanche staged a nearly insurmountable comeback to exact revenge on the Toronto Maple Leafs

Jan 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews (7) celebrates his overtime goal with center Alex Newhook (18) and left wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) and center Nazem Kadri (91) and left wing Andre Burakovsky (95) against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Revenge is best served when all the odds are stacked against you. Even if they’re self-inflicted.

Trailing by three goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs and red hot goaltender Jack Campbell was still not enough to keep the Avalanche at bay on Saturday.

Colorado scored four unanswered goals and needed 49 shots on the NHL’s best goalie this season to complete a 5-4 overtime victory at Ball Arena. Amid the COVID pause, holidays and new year, the Avs still had the 8-3 loss to Toronto 38 days ago on their mind.

They wanted revenge. And they got it.

“We talked about it before the game, about what happened,” Avs forward Mikko Rantanen said of the loss to Toronto on Dec. 1. “We wanted payback. It didn’t start the right way but the three goals gave us even more anger to come back and show that it’s not over.”

“We’re not losing that easy.”

Listen to “Comeback” on Spreaker.

The Avs hadn’t completed a three-goal comeback in almost four years. But doing so against Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada — The flagship Saturday-night broadcast north of the border — further cemented Colorado as one the NHL’s best.

Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews had two goals in the first period, the Avs’ power play couldn’t capitalize on any of its four opportunities and Campbell made the save of the year with a 4-2 lead midway through the third period. But none of that stopped Colorado’s potent offense.

They didn’t want to fall behind to the Leafs again. But even when they did, they kept it from getting out of control.

“When we were in Toronto that was one of those games that got out of hand,” said Toews, who scored his sixth goal in just 20 games. “But we’re a resilient group.”

Avs coach Jared Bednar pulled starting goalie Darcy Kuemper when Toronto led 3-0 in the first period. It was an effort to jumpstart his team.

Kuemper had been victimized twice by superstar Auston Matthews, who had a hat trick in Colorado’s first clash with the Maple Leafs. They needed to calm things down.

Enter backup goalie Pavel Francouz. And a new mindset for the Avs.

“I just decided to take it minute by minute and I felt like we really changed our game as a team since I stepped in,” Francouz said, earning his first NHL regular-season victory since March of 2020. “Most of the time I was just watching our team playing in their zone.”

The game shifted from Toronto’s favor sometime in the second period. But the Maple Leafs escaped with the lone power-play goal before Cale Makar’s tally for the Avs made it 4-2 before the third period.

Colorado needed just two goals to climb back into it at that point. And they did everything they could to ensure that would happen, outshooting the visitors 19-6 in the final frame. Gabriel Landeskog scored just moments after Campbell made a spectacular diving save to make it 4-3. And J.T. Compher capped the comeback with a tap in off a no-look feed from Rantanen.

The pass had everyone fooled. Specifically, Campbell, who had no idea the puck was even on Compher’s stick.

“Sometimes those plays work but It doesn’t every time,” Rantanen said of his pass. “It’s tough for the goalie. He thinks the puck is going around the net but then it’s coming back.”

The Avalanche have now won a franchise-record 11 straight on home ice. They’re 9-1 in their last 10 and 3-0 since returning from the extended holiday break. Their .710 points percentage tops the Western Conference but trails three teams, including Toronto, in the East.

Saturday was yet another reminder that Colorado can not only hang with the best, but is among them.

“They’re a good team but so are we,” Rantanen said.

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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

Listen to “Comeback” on Spreaker.

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