The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild squared off for the final time this season…at least for the regular season. The Avalanche came into the game leading the season series 5-2. A huge reason for the gap between the two teams in first and third in the standings. However, the Wild would not want to give this one up so easily, and this game went very differently than the rest of the season has for Colorado. Minnesota would start hot and never let off, cruising to an 8-3 victory against the Avs.
As expected for the eighth meeting in under 40 games this season, these two teams had some high tensions and looked sick of each other. The game was chippy from the opening puck drop. Four minor penalties were handed out in the first five minutes of the game. On a Wild 4-on-3, Kirill Kaprizov would open the scoring on a backdoor pass from Victor Rask.
The Avalanche struggled to get much going in the first, as the shots were just 4-1 Minnesota 10 minutes into the game. However, that also included a close call where Mats Zuccarello hit the crossbar. With 6:45 left, Luke Johnson would find his first ever NHL goal and make it 2-0 Wild. He was left open in the slot on a 3-on-2 and roofed it. With two minutes left, Andre Burakovsky would head to the box. Kevin Fiala would flick one home with 1:22 left in the period and the Wild took a 3-0 lead.
It was a very forgettable period for the Avalanche, as the second-best penalty kill went 0/2 and they really got nothing going. Phillip Grubauer can only do so much, but he didn’t have much of a chance on most of the goals. At the end of one, there were seven minor penalties and the score was 3-0. Minnesota led in shots 8-4.
The second period started much different for the Avs. A power play from the first carried over and 30 seconds in it was Nathan MacKinnon with a beauty to get Colorado on the board. Down 3-1 with lots of time to play, it once again felt like anyone’s game.
Just under five minutes in, Ryan Hartman would score off of a turnover up the middle from Devon Toews. A pretty uncharacteristic play from Toews as he sent one right up the middle and it would be 4-1.
However, under a minute later it would be Burakovsky would clean up a rebound from a Jacob MacDonald point shot. Just like that, the Avs were once again only down two goals.
10 minutes into the second, Ryan Suter would head to the box and the Avalanche power play got to go to work again. It would be a MacKinnon shot through a screen that bounced out and Mikko Rantanen collected the rebound. Suddenly, it was a 4-3 game.
However, the second period unfortunately would not end with the Avs within one. On yet another Wild power play, Kaprizov would get his second of the game from Fiala and Spurgeon. It was a shot between Nichushkin’s leg, with almost no space to release it. The Avs penalty kill would fall to 0/3 and the score was now 5-3.
The second period would end at this score. Overall, it was a good period for Colorado. They outscored Minnesota 3-2 and also controlled the shots and shot attempts. Despite that, they still found themselves down two.
The third period saw some back-and-forth play to start. However, almost five minutes in Fiala would find his second of the game on a solid second effort. This is one that Grubauer needed to have. Six goals on 14 shots isn’t a good look, and while most of them weren’t really his fault, a couple times he got beat up high in where he would usually make a save.
With 12:42 left, the Wild would strike once again. Eriksson Ek would take a pass in the slot and slide one past Grubauer. This would end his night as Jonas Johansson would come in. Grubauer ended with seven goals against on just 18 shots. Not pretty. 40 seconds later, Fiala would complete the hat trick as he slides one along the ice from the top of the circle, making it 8-3.
From there on in, the game would get chippy. O’Brien and Dumba were both given two and 10’s for roughing, effectively ending their nights. There were a couple other small scrums but nothing major happened for the rest of the game.
This was an ugly one for Colorado. Just nothing went right for them tonight. The penalty kill was way below par, going 0/3 to start. However, they had some bad plays at 5v5 too. Whether that be blown coverage or bad turnovers, those costed them tonight. Sometimes they can get away with it, but Grubauer was nowhere near his usual self either. While the game shouldn’t be pinned on him, he didn’t help out too much.
On top of that, the Avs played into the Wild’s game to start. Just four shots in 20 minutes to start the game will always be hard to recover from. When they did wake up in the second, it was too little too late. However, Colorado still took the season series with five wins in eight games. They need to shake this one off and move on to their next game. Colorado has two games against the Anaheim Ducks coming up, which there are no excuses then. Colorado is the better team and should be wanting to show that.
While these games happen to everyone, it is a good note for the Avalanche that the Wild shouldn’t be taken lightly. A good reminder of how important the first seed in this division could be. There is a major gap between whoever finishes fourth and Minnesota. Avoiding the harder matchup round one could go a long way in keeping guys more rested in the playoffs. Look for the Avs to bounce back Friday night.