The Colorado Avalanche faced a formidable task this weekend as it took on two Central Division foes in a road back-to-back set.
It was far from easy or perfect, but the Avs won both games and are now heading back to Denver with four points in tow.
Colorado completed the road sweep on Saturday by defeating the Nashville Predators 5-0 at Bridgestone Arena. The Avalanche, which won 5-3 at the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday to begin the two-game road trip, has now won four consecutive games for the first time since the team won six straight from Nov. 18-28.
"Whenever you can come out on the road in two tough buildings and get four points, it's fantastic," said head coach Jared Bednar. "Now we've strung a couple wins together. I'm excited about the points, but I'm excited about the way our team is playing too at this point."
The Avs have won five of their last six contests (5-1-0) and are now 5-2-3 in their last 10. Colorado has outscored its opposition 24-8 over those six outings and hold a 20-4 edge in goals during its four-game winning streak.
The Avalanche has also picked up points in each of its last six road contests (3-0-3).
"The last couple games, we're moving in the right direction," said winning goaltender Philipp Grubauer. "It's been a battle and it's going to be a battle until the end of the season. We're lucky we're still in it, still in the mix. We got to bring it every night, every second, every shift. We got to go out there and play the right way."
Playing back-to-back games is never easy, but it's part of the sport and every team in the league has to deal with it. The Avs faced a unique challenge in Saturday's game as they had less than 20 hours from the final horn in Chicago to the opening faceoff in Nashville to prepare and recover.
Video: Toyota Game Recap - COL at NSH
The Preds outshot the Avs 10-5 in the first period, but Colorado set the tone for the contest early when Nathan MacKinnon tallied just 3:05 after the opening puck drop. The Avalanche was opportunistic offensively with five goals on 19 shots and stingy on defense, blocking 19 pucks fired by Nashville in the contest.
"We knew coming into this game that they were sitting waiting for us. We're coming into a back-to-back on short rest, so we knew they were going to come out hard in their own building," said defenseman Erik Johnson. "For us, just a playoff-style mentality. You got to sacrifice, eat some biscuits in those situations."
Colorado's two wins marked the first time it had won both outings of a consecutive-night set since on Nov. 27-28 when the team beat the Predators on the road and the Pittsburgh Penguins at home. It was the Avalanche's first sweep in a road back-to-back scenario since it defeated the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 11-12, 2016.
The Avs are now 4-3-2 in both the first and second games when playing on consecutive days and will play two more of these situations this season (March 23-24, April 1-2).
Video: Bednar after the shutout win in Nashville
The Avalanche entered the weekend with 22 games remaining on its schedule and in the hunt for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season. Colorado was motivated heading into its two-day trip but was also facing clubs equally as focused.
Nashville is looking to chase down the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the division and possibly compete for the top spot in the Western Conference, while Chicago is among a handful of clubs battling for the two wild-card positions.
"Beating two very tough teams, some of the hottest teams in the league, it's great for us," said MacKinnon, who had two goals and an assist in the contest. "We need the points regardless, but we have a good schedule coming up. Lots of home games, not many road games. It's great."
With the victories, the Avalanche moves into the eighth position in the Western Conference with 65 points, one up on the Minnesota Wild and four ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and Blackhawks. The Avs have games remaining against every club in the West's playoff hunt.
"The most important thing for us is that we need the points bad," Bednar said. "We need the points more than they do."
The Avs wrapped up the four-game season series against the Predators, with both clubs winning on the road. Colorado has now won three straight contests in the Music City dating back to Game 5 of the clubs' first-round matchup against one another in the playoffs last spring.
GRUBAUER SHUTS THE DOOR: Philipp Grubauer started his first game in nearly three weeks and produced his first shutout in an Avalanche sweater and the seventh of his NHL career.
Grubauer stopped 38 shots, including 18 in the third period, for his first shutout since March 22, 2018 (at Detroit) while a member of the Washington Capitals.
"The guys made it so easy for me," said Grubauer, who is in his first season in Colorado after being acquired in a trade last summer. "We scored at the right time. We made the right plays at the right time. I don't know how many blocked shots we had in the second period there.
"I can go through the lineup, there is something positive to pick out of for every guy. If we're moving and if we're moving our feet, we're really hard to beat. Even though they got a couple shots in the last period, I thought it was a really good game."
Video: Grubauer after his first shutout as an Av
Grubauer was seeing his first game action since a relief appearance on Feb. 12 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs and his first start since Feb. 5 versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. He seemed to get better as the contest wore one, making several highlight-worthy stops in the final frame.
"He was great tonight," Bednar said. "From start to finish, he looked really fast, really fast."
Semyon Varlamov had started each of the last nine games for the Avs--a season high for the keeper--and is 4-1-0 in his last five outings. He has won each of his last three starts, posting a 1.34 goals-against average and .964 save percentage.
"It's great to have two goalies that are very capable," said MacKinnon. "We need them to be our best players and they have been lately."
GOING STREAKING: The Avalanche's four straight games with a victory wasn't the only streaks that was extended on Saturday night.
Gabriel Landeskog scored for the third straight game (three goals total) and now has points in each of his last four outings (three goals, three assists). He has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his last 10 games.
Video: COL@NSH: Landeskog scores on give-and-go with Girard
Carl Soderberg had the secondary assist on Landeskog's tally and pushed his point streak to three games. He added a second helper on Nikita Zadorov's third-period tally and now has three goals and four assists during his current stretch.
Mikko Rantanen also has points in three straight contests (one goal, two assists) after assisting on Nathan MacKinnon's first of two goals.
Sven Andrighetto also extended his assist/point streak to three games (four assists total) after setting up Zadorov's goal that made the score 5-0.
LINEUP NOTES: Matt Nieto missed Saturday's contest with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot the previous night. It was the first game he has missed since Nov. 16-18 (lower body).
The Avalanche filled Nieto's roster spot by recalling Sheldon Dries from the Colorado Eagles earlier in the day. He played on an even-strength combo with Andrew Agozzino and A.J. Greer.
Colorado maneuvered three of its four line combinations with Nieto's absence, moving J.T. Compher up to a spot with Carl Soderberg and Sven Andrighetto, who swapped places with Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen went to a group with Nathan MacKinnon and Alexander Kerfoot.
The Avs' line of Matt Calvert, Tyson Jost and Gabriel Landeskog remained the same as it was on Friday.
MORE POSTGAME NOTES: Two of the Avalanche's four wins during its win streak have come via a shutout. Semyon Varlamov also recorded a clean slate in the victory on Feb. 18 vs. Vegas (40 saves).
The Avs are 4-3-2 so far in day games this year (5 p.m. local start time or earlier), including a 3-1-2 mark on the road. They have four more afternoon contests this season.
Nikita Zadorov had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game of the campaign and the seventh of his career.
The Avs scored twice in the third period and now have 83 goals in the final frame of regulation, ranked second in the NHL in third-period scoring (Calgary, 90). Colorado has outscored the opposition 11-2 in the third period over its four-game winning streak.
Alexander Kerfoot matched a career high with three points (one goal, two assists), a feat he has now achieved three times (Nov. 21, 2018 at Los Angeles, Oct. 29, 2017 vs. St. Louis).
Nathan MacKinnon finished with three points (two goals, one assist) to bring his season total to 80, taking over the team lead and moving into fourth overall in league scoring. Rantanen is tied for fifth with 79 points after he recorded an assist on Kerfoot's tally.