The All-Star break might have come at the worst possible time for the Colorado Avalanche. They had all the momentum in the world heading into the break, and through two games, they’ve struggled to find the consistency they were playing with prior to their week off.
On Tuesday, little mistakes cost them in a big way.
After coming back to tie the game up in the third period, the top line for the Avalanche got a little lax in their own end, allowing the New Jersey Devils to score the game-winning goal with under 2:30 remaining. The third period was far and away Colorado’s best, and it had to be, because most of the first 40 minutes belonged to the home team. The consistency just isn’t there, and they’ve got a long road trip ahead of them to find it.
Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Sam Girard scored the goals for the Avalanche, while Jonathan Drouin chipped in with two assists. Justus Annunen, making his second start of the season, stopped 26 of the 30 shots sent his way.
On the second half of a back-to-back, the Avalanche got off a fast start. A real fast start.
Just 1:23 in, Nico Hischier tried to cut to the middle of the ice in his own end. Jonathan Drouin poked it off his stick, and it went directly to Mikko Rantanen, who turned and fired it over Vanecek’s glove, making it 1-0.
The lead would not last long, however. 42 seconds later, after Sam Malinski lost the puck behind his net, a Nemec point shot was tipped by Chris Tierney. It bounced off the ice, and then over the glove of Justus Annunen, tying the game up at one on New Jersey’s first shot of the game. Their second shot was even more high-danger, as Jesper Bratt got a breakaway at the end of an Avalanche powerplay, but Annunen stoned him when he tried to shoot low.
Colorado owned the first half of the period, outshooting the Devils 10-3 at one point, but the tide quickly turned the rest of the period, and the shots ended up 14-12 in favor of the Devils after one period.
It looked like Colorado was going to get off to a quick start in the second, as Josh Manson appeared to give the Avalanche the lead 38 seconds into the period. However, the Devils quickly challenged for goaltender interference. These reviews are always a toss-up to me, as the league makes their rules so vague that it could go either way, and on this one, it went against Colorado. The league ruled Logan O’Connor impaired Vanecek’s ability to play his position, a ruling Jared Bednar did not agree with after the game. That call really seemed to change the momentum of the period.
Three minutes later, Cale Makar got caught on a pinch with no forward backing him up, giving the Devils a two-on-one. Bratt and Hischier executed a perfect passing play, and Bratt beat Annunen on the blocker side, making it 2-1. Three minutes later, Manson got caught trying to grab the puck in front, and Mercer tipped it past him, leaving Haula all alone. Annunen made the initial save, but couldn’t find the rebound, which trickled behind him. Sam Girard went to clear it, but Mercer beat him to the puck, tapping it into the empty net.
Ross Colton must have said something to the refs afterwards, because he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Luckily, the Avalanche killed that penalty off, but they still struggled to get much going offensively. The teams traded powerplays late in the period, but neither team capitalized, and the Devils took the 3-1 lead into the third.
To start the third, the Avalanche looked a little bit more desperate. You’d hope so, considering they were trailing by two goals. An early powerplay in the third period generate one great scoring chance, but Rantanen was robbed by a sliding Vanecek on his deflection opportunity.
Playing his home state, Ross Colton was in an angry mood. A tussle in front of the net with Kevin Bahl led to both players ending up in the box, which seemed to be the best thing possible for the Avalanche. After the big guns generated some decent looks, a bit of a fluke play got Colorado back into the game.
Luke Hughes corralled the puck behind his own net, and thought he had plenty of time. He didn’t, because Artturi Lehkonen was right on him. Lehkonen poked the puck with his stick, and it landed right on the blade of Cale Makar, who was able to put the puck into the empty side of the net. A crazy play, but it’s what the Avalanche needed at that moment. And 29 seconds later, the game was tied up, with Lehkonen playing a role in that as well.
Jonathan Drouin curled in the offensive zone and sent a pass across to a wide open Sam Girard. Lehkonen threw a bit of interference on the defending player, which gave Girard even more time. The defenseman wound up and used the Devils defender as a screen, blasting it past Vanecek’s glove and tying the game at three. Just like that, Colorado had tied the game up, and had all the momentum.
With under three minutes remaining in the game, it looked like Nathan MacKinnon was going to send the dagger through the Devils hearts. MacKinnon, who entered the game on a 14 game point streak, burst free for a breakaway, but Vanecek robbed him with his blocker, keeping the game tied. That save proved to be crucial for the home team, because after a quick commercial break, they broke the tie.
With 2:17 left in the third, Marino found himself wide open in the slot. MacKinnon was a little slow getting to him, and Marino sent a one-timer past Annunen, giving the Devils the late lead. They added an empty netter with just a few seconds left, and the Avalanche were handed their second straight loss.
The long road trip continues for Colorado, as they now head to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes on Thursday. That game starts at 5 PM MST.