It was game No. 35 of the season, but it felt like opening night for many of the Colorado Avalanche players.
"I was really pumped for the game," said forward Andre Burakovsky. "Even when I woke up this morning, I was really pumped and ready to go and get the fans back and get some atmosphere. We felt great."
The Avs sure put on a show in their first home game with a crowd this season. Colorado scored five goals in a matter of 3:27 in the opening frame and went on to defeat the Arizona Coyotes 9-3 on Wednesday night at Ball Arena.
It was the first contest with fans at the Avalanche's home barn since March 11, 2020 when the team defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime, the day before the NHL paused last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was just amazing to come out and have fans back," Burakovsky said. "We missed them a lot. It's not the same playing hockey without them."
Ball Arena received a capacity variance from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment on March 18 and can host up to 4,050 ticketed patrons beginning this weekend when the Avalanche hosts the St. Louis Blues in a back-to-back set. On this night however, the crowd wasn't as large as Colorado invited frontline staff, health care providers, first responders, players' families and employees of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment to the outing.
Their presence made an impact.
"I think the fans had a huge effect," said Joonas Donskoi, who tied his career high of four points with three goals and an assist. "I think everybody was fired up, and I think we showed that when we came out to play. We had a good start."
Video: ARI@COL: Avalanche score five goals in the 1st period
Donskoi's three goals came in the first 7:31 of the first period, which marked the fastest hat trick to start a game in franchise history.
Overall, the Avalanche's five markers in a span of 3:27 set a new Avalanche record (since 1995-96) for the fastest five goals. The Quebec Nordiques hold the franchise mark of five tallies in 2:42 on Feb. 22, 1981 at the Washington Capitals.
"It was a lot of fun. You could tell our guys were excited about it by the way we came out. It's just so much different playing in front of fans, and we miss it as a team," said head coach Jared Bednar. "We want to put our best foot forward, and I thought we did that in the first period. I loved the balanced attack with all of those guys getting on the scoresheet."
The win gave Colorado 50 points on the year and tied its franchise record for the fewest number of contests to reach the half-century mark (35). The club also leapfrogged the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the West Division for at least one night after Vegas fell to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday (49 points, 34 games0.
Winning the division is one of the Avs' regular-season goals, and with fans now back in the building, getting home-ice advantage for the playoffs becomes an even bigger factor for the club.
"We do understand that home ice is important, especially if we put fans back in and if we continue to be playing at home at Ball Arena," said Bednar. "It will make a big difference for us."
Joonas Donskoi's three goals marked his second career hat trick, with his previous coming on Nov. 7, 2019 versus the Nashville Predators.
The tallies came in a 3:27 span, the second-fastest in franchise history with only Quebec's Alain Cote doing so quicker in 2:17 on April 1, 1982 at the Boston Bruins. Donskoi did set the record for the fastest hat trick to start a contest with him making fans in the Ball Arena stands throw their hats just 7:31 into the game, besting Cote's mark of 15:46 from that 1982 contest.
"It's fun to play with this line right now with Josty (Tyson Jost) and Val [Nichushkin]," said Donskoi, crediting his linemates for their help on Wednesday. "I know they're going to work their [butts] off every shift. Those goals that I got, I just kind of went to the front of the net and got a couple of bounces and rebounds and was able to put them in the back of the net. Playing with those two guys is super fun right now."
Donskoi also added an assist late in the outing on Andre Burakovsky's second goal to match his career high for points in a contest (Nov. 30, 2019 versus Chicago).
"Donny has been great. What a game. What a first period or what a seven and a half minutes from him," said Gabriel Landeskog. "It was pretty incredible to watch. I even thought watching the rest of the first period from the bench that he could have had a couple more, and it felt like he was on pace for six, seven goals for a bit."
The Raahe, Finland, native is now on a four-game point streak (five goals and two assists) and has nine goals and six assists in his last 10 games. Donskoi has 15 goals on the year to rank second on the club and is one shy of tying his career best for a single campaign (16, last season).
"I love seeing him get rewarded. He's been a consistent worker for us," Bednar said of Donskoi. "He looks extremely poised with the puck, and he's patient making plays. But it's not just fancy, it's the right play at the right time. He gets rewarded tonight. Three goals in a hurry, and probably could have had two or three more assists in the first period."
Forward Logan O'Connor didn't return to the game at the start the second period after playing eight shifts and 4:34 in the opening stanza.
"Lower body [injury], I guess it's a muscle strain or a pull or something," Bednar said of O'Connor's absence. "I haven't seen the medical staff after the game yet, but hopefully he's good to go. I won't have an update on him until tomorrow when I catch up with the trainers."
Defenseman Bowen Byram missed his third straight contest with an upper-body injury, but he could return to action as soon as the Avs' next game on Friday against the St. Louis Blues. Byram skated on his own prior to Wednesday's morning skate, the second straight day he took to the ice.
"We'll probably know a little bit more [on Thursday] if he's going to be an option for us for the weekend games," Bednar said of Byram earlier on Wednesday. "He is making progress."
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
The Avalanche finished March with a 12-2-3 record, the club's most wins in a single month in franchise history. Colorado's 27 points in the month are the most by any team in the NHL and a franchise record.
The Avs have points in 12 straight games (10-0-2), equaling the longest point streak in the NHL this season. The Islanders had an 11-0-1 run from Feb. 22-March 14. It's Colorado's first stretch of 12 contests without a regulation loss since Feb. 27-March 25, 2007 (10-0-2).
The Avalanche is 9-0-1 in its last 10 outings at Ball Arena, the club's longest home point streak since winning 10 straight in its friendly confines from Dec. 29, 2017-Feb. 14, 2018.
Colorado scored five goals in a 3:27 span of the first period, the fastest five goals scored in Avalanche history (since 1995-96), beating its previous record of 4:35 set last season (Nov. 7, 2019 vs. Nashville). The Avs' five markers in 3:27 are the fastest five scored by any NHL team since the New York Rangers did it in 2:58 on April 19, 2013 at Buffalo. It also stands as the 11th fastest five goals by one team in the NHL history.
The victory marked the third time this season that the Avs have scored eight or more goals in a game, the only team in the league to accomplish the feat three times in 2020-21. The Rangers have done it twice and the Edmonton Oilers once. Colorado joins New York as the only teams to have scored nine times in an outing this campaign. The Avalanche is averaging a league-best 3.63 goals per game this season.
Mikko Rantanen recorded three points (one goal, two assists), his seventh multi-point performance of March. He finished the month ranked first in the league in points (25) and goals (13). His 13 tallies are the second-most by an Avalanche player in a single month (Joe Sakic, 15 points, March 2000) since the team moved to Denver.
Gabriel Landeskog finished with three points (two goals, one assist) and has totaled 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) over his last 10 games. Landeskog produced 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in the month of March, the second-most points in the league and tied for the third-most goals in the 31 days.
Nathan MacKinnon tallied two assists and finished the month with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists). His 15 assists were tied for third in the league for March.
Philipp Grubauer earned his league-leading 22nd win of the season and extended his franchise record for wins in a month to 12. His victory also equaled the NHL record for wins in a month (12) shared by Sergei Bobrovsky (December 2016), Jimmy Howard (March 2010), Ray Emery (March 2006) and Bernie Parent (March 1974).
J.T. Compher registered an assist to pick up his 100th career point.