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Nichushkin Hat Trick Propels Avalanche To Win, Sends Jets To Brink Of Elimination




The Colorado Avalanche have the Winnipeg Jets on the brink of elimination.

A three goal third period catapulted the Avalanche to a 4-1 lead after two periods, and the third period was all about running out the clock. Colorado was led by Valeri Nichushkin, who picked up his first career playoff hat trick, and the Avalanche took a commanding 3-1 series lead with the 5-1 win at home. Nichushkin now leads the NHL in goals this postseason with six, but his teammate Artturi Lehkonen isn’t far behind him with four. Bednar raved about the work of those two after the game, and they’re a big reason why the Avalanche are one win away from the second round.

Alexandar Georgiev was strong again in net, stopping 26 of 27 shots. His counterpart, Connor Hellebuyck, might win the Vezina Trophy in a few months, but this series hasn’t gone well for him. He spent the third period on the bench.

First Period

Can anyone stop the second line for the Colorado Avalanche? Or better year, can anyone slow down Artturi Lehkonen? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

Colorado came out and dominated the start of the game, with the shots ending up 12-3 at one point. It was the second line and not the first line that really created all the momentum for the Avalanche, keeping the puck down low and cycling the Jets into submission.

The opening goal of the game actually started with a great defensive play by Lehkonen at one end. With a wide open pass to the slot available, Lehkonen slid to the ice and blocked it, making sure nothing dangerous would occur. Colorado broke the puck out, and that line went right to work. Lehkonen and Mittelstadt forced a Stanley turnover, allowing Parise to recover the puck. He hit Mittelstadt, who put a great move on Stanley behind the net to create space, then hit a wide open Lehkonen in front. Lehkonen corralled it and fired it top shelf, making it 1-0 for Colorado.

It was all Avalanche for a while longer, but the Jets tied the game up, thanks in part to a bad line change by the Avalanche. Nate Schmidt found himself all alone coming in late, and beat Georgiev on the blocker side at the 14 minute mark, tying the game up.

But hold up, Colorado ended up challenging the play for offsides. And boy was it close. The linesmen reviewed the play for a few minutes, but ultimately, decided that the goal would stand, much to the chagrin of Avalanche fans. Colorado killed the delay of game penalty they were assessed to make sure nothing got out of hand.

Georgiev made his biggest stop late, kicking out the pad on Namestnikov in the final 20 seconds to make sure the score stayed the same heading into the intermission.

Second Period

Period two was, far and away, the sloppiest period of the series from either team. And yet, Colorado walked away with three goals in the final nine minutes. If you slip up against this team, they will make you pay.

There were a lot of penalties called, and not all of them were great, but it kind of went both ways. Colorado’s first powerplay was ugly, as was their second…but their third and fourth? Much better.

At 11:36 of the period, we saw a lot of what we saw during the regular season – Cale Makar throwing it at the net, and Valeri Nichushkin just putting his big body in front. Makar’s shot looked like it was going well wide, but that might have been the plan. Nichushkin deflected it off the ice and past Hellebuyck, making it 2-1.

Four minutes later, it was the Cale Makar show.

Makar gathered the puck behind his own net, and went to work. It looked like the Jets were going to poke the puck away from him in the neutral zone, but he kept control of it, carrying it into the offensive zone. Makar cut to the right, used the Jets defenseman as a screen, changed the angle of his shot, and beat Hellebuyck clean, making it 3-1. The fans went nuts, but that wasn’t the end of the barrage.

With a minute remaining, Winnipeg took ANOTHER penalty. 36 seconds later, the 1-2 punch in front of Lehkonen and Nichushkin caused the chaos we’ve all come to expect. MacKinnon threw it at the net, Lehkonen tipped it, then poked it over to a wide open Nichushkin, who made it 4-1. That’s Jets didn’t even play poorly in the second, but you fall asleep for one second against this team, and they’ll burn you.

Third Period

I don’t know if Jared Bednar would love the way his team played in the third period, but it was enough to get the job done. The Jets, as you would expect, pushed to get back into the game, and did so in front of a new goaltender.

Hellebuyck spent the third period on the bench, while Laurent Brossoit made his first appearance this series. I doubt that stays the same in Game Five, but you never know.

Winnipeg got a few powerplays, but the closest they got to scoring was on a point shot from Nate Schmidt. It rang off the crossbar before the Avalanche were able to clear the puck down the ice.

Once “All The Small Things” played through the stereo system, the game was over. Nichushkin added his third into the empty net, and the hats went flying. Colorado will now look to close out the series on Tuesday in Winnipeg.

And Colorado Hockey Now will be there.

Colorado's premier coverage of the Avalanche from professional hockey people. Evan Rawal, Editor-in-Chief. Part of the National Hockey Now family.

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