The hoopla surrounding the NHL’s marquee game between its winningest teams since Nov. 11 begged overtime on Saturday, and the Avalanche made that happen by rallying from a three-goal deficit at Ball Arena.
In a thrilling see-saw showdown, Toronto scored the first three goals and Colorado produced the final three of regulation. Avs defenseman Devon Toews scored the biggest one 1:12 into OT for a memorable 5-4 victory that extended Colorado’s club-record home winning streak to 11 games.
Toews, skating with forwards Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen in the 3-on-3 OT, took a drop pass from Rantanen and worked a give-and-go with Kadri before using a snap shot to beat goalie Jack Campbell, who failed to hold a 4-1 lead.
Avs winger Mikko Rantanen, who had four assists, said he and his teammates talked about “payback” from their 8-3 loss at Toronto on Dec. 1.
They got it with an impressive comeback that began at 16:46 of the second period, when superstar defenseman Cale Makar struck to make it 4-2. They then got tallies from Gabe Landeskog and J.T. Compher to tie it midway through the third. Rantanen assisted on both in a span of 1:36.
“We talked about it briefly,” Toews’ said about the embarrassing loss last month in Toronto. “I was in our heads. We let that game get out of hand. It shouldn’t have been an 8-3 game and we embarrassed our team.”
Perhaps revenge spurred the comeback.
“It’s a testament to our team and our work ethic — when we put our foot down and work and get to our game, we can be so lethal,” Toews said. “It’s all about commitment from the whole lineup — four lines, six D and both goalies — like we needed tonight.”
Toronto dominated early. Superstar Auston Matthews, who had three goals in the Leafs’ blowout win over the Avs in Toronto, put pucks behind goalie Darcy Kuemper on consecutive shifts after former Avs forward Alex Kerfoot scored the game’s first goal for the visitors.
Kuemper, who had won his previous seven starts, was replaced by Pavel Francouz after Matthews’ second goal at 14:53 of the first period. Francouz got the win by stopping 18 of 19 shots.
Avs coach Jared Bednar said he primarily pulled Kuemper as a wake-up call to the team.
“Sometimes it works sometimes not, but it obviously worked for us today because we really started playing well in the second period and it was just to me to stop the puck,” Francouz said of his relief work. “It was just a matter of time until we scored a couple of goals and possibly tied or won the game.”
Colorado improved to 4-0 coming off its COVID shutdown that led to seven games being postponed. The Avs are 9-1 in their last 10 games and 17-3-1 in their last 21 — the NHL’s best record since Nov. 11; Toronto is second at 14-4-1.
“That was an exciting game. The stars showed up,” Bednar said. “Like Matthews, we couldn’t do anything against him in the first period. It was like a man against boys. Then our guys got going it was similar at the other end. It was a really good hockey game. Exciting to even be a part of and I’m sure the fans enjoyed it.”
The Avs got a goal from star center Nathan MacKinnon to get within 3-1 at 17:11 of the first period. But the momentum didn’t last long. The only power-play goal through 40 minutes was scored by Toronto forward Nick Ritchie at 5:39 of the middle frame. The Avs’ Alex Newhook was in the box for hooking — the game’s most costly penalty.
MacKinnon extended his points streak to 10 games and Makar extended his league-leading goals for defensemen to 15.
Footnotes. MacKinnon extended his points streak to 10 games and Makar extended his league-leading goals for defensemen to 15. … The Avs again played without forward Valeri Nichushkin and defenseman Jack Johnson because of injuries. Nichushkin has missed the last four games and Johnson the previous two. … The Leafs were without star winger Mitchell Marner because of COVID protocol.
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