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Annunen Pitches First Career Shutout, Avalanche Dominate Blackhawks



Avalanche Annunen

So, should the Colorado Avalanche go out and trade for a goaltender or not?

On Thursday night, Justus Annunen pitched his first career NHL shutout, stopping all 24 shots sent his way and helping the Avalanche beat the Blackhawks by a score of 5-0. Sure, the Blackhawks aren’t exactly the toughest opponent, but that’s out of his control, and it’s a Blackhawks team that has already beaten the Avalanche once this year. That’s now three straight solid starts for Annunen, who is doing what he can to show he can be a steady backup for Alexandar Georgiev.

Zach Parise picked up two goals, while Ross Colton, Devon Toews, and Nathan MacKinnon chipped in as well. MacKinnon’s third period goal gave him 100 points on the year, making him the first Avalanche player ever to cross that threshold in back-to-back seasons.

First Period

In the opening period on Thursday night, both teams traded shifts where they spent an extended period of time in the offensive zone. The difference was the Avalanche struggled to get their shots through to the net for most of the first, while the Blackhawks peppered Justus Annunen.

To Colorado’s credit, the majority of the shots from the Blackhawks came from the exterior, as they protected the slot pretty well. Chicago’s best chance probably came early, when Bedard threw the puck into the slot, and Annunen had to make a save moving to his right on the deflection. Annunen later stopped a Bedard wrist shot from the the circle, making it look pretty easy.

At the other end, Nathan MacKinnon had a puck roll on him with an empty net, and Mikko Rantanen hit a post off a face-off play. With just over two minutes left in the period, Jack Johnson stole the puck from Bedard, creating a two-on-one the other way. Johnson hit Zach Parise on the other wing, who wired it over Mrazek’s glove to give the Avalanche the 1-0 lead going into the intermission. A 37 year old setting up a 39 year old is not something I had on my BINGO card for Thursday night.

Second Period

Colorado played with fire to start the second period, as a Josh Manson pinch led to an odd-man rush the other way, but Samuel Girard bailed out his defensive partner with a great break-up. A few moments later, Annunen made a blocker save on another two-on-one, keeping the score 1-0.

On their first powerplay of the game, the top unit wasn’t able to get the job done, but Nathan MacKinnon stayed out late to extend the lead. His breakaway chance was stopped, but the puck came to him again at the right face-off circle. He hit Colton in front, whose initial shot was stopped by Mrazek, but the puck immediately came back to Colton, who roofed it to extend the lead. A furious Mrazek appeared to chew out his defenseman, who didn’t help much on the goal.

Less than a minute later, the Avalanche turned a neutral zone face-off into another goal. Jonathan Drouin did a great job drawing everyone to him in the middle of the ice, then dished it off to Ryan Johansen on the right wing. Johansen faked his shot and went around Mrazek, putting the puck towards the empty net. The goal was later credited to Parise, who smacked it over the goal line.

It looked like the Blackhawks were going to get out of the period down just three goals, but the Avalanche really pushed in the final minute. Cale Makar looked like a guy who really wanted to end his goalless drought, but his shots missed the net. The puck came to Mikko Rantanen along the wall, who sent a perfect backhand pass to Devon Toews, whose one-timer beat Mrazek with just 1.7 seconds left.

Third Period

The Avalanche came out in the third period determined to make sure that Justus Annunen left with his first career shutout, and that’s exactly what happened. Not a whole lot happened for the Hawks in the third period, except for Bedard taking a slash across the wrist from Josh Manson that went uncalled. He was not happy about that.

With just under three minutes left in the game, Nathan MacKinnon made history.

He burst down the right wing after a breakout pass by Cale Makar, and beat Mrazek on the blocker side for his 36th goal of the year. It just so happened to be his 100th point on the season, making him the first Avalanche player to ever put together back-to-back 100 point seasons.

Colorado walked away with the 5-0 victory, and will now head to Nashville to take on the red-hot Predators on Saturday. That game starts at 4 PM MST.

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