The visiting Washington Capitals scored first and last on Wednesday night at Pepsi Center, but it was what the Colorado Avalanche did in-between that mattered in the 5-3 loss.
The game didn't reflect the score, and as the clock ticked down in the third period, the Avs made a push to try and close the 4-3 deficit they faced. They had already scored twice-Matt Nieto and Nathan MacKinnon found twine-to make things interesting in the second half of the match.
"We're learning I guess from the past few games. We kept driving," defenseman Mark Barberio said after the loss. "Four-one down, it could have been easy to just hang our heads, but we kept the energy up. Obviously, it's a pretty amazing goal there by MacK, and that gave the team a lot of momentum. Came pretty close to grabbing that tying goal. We had some chances at the end."
Were it not for an empty-net tally with 1:22 remaining, Colorado may have found the equalizer. Alas, one goal in the first and another two in the second period doomed the team to its seventh consecutive loss.
Video: Nathan MacKinnon on the loss to the Capitals
"We had a good first, and I thought we had a good third. They outplayed us in the second. That's what cost us," MacKinnon said. "We gave them lots of odd-man rushes. Obviously, it's nice to play with the best team in the league…in the third and play well, but we still lost."
MacKinnon's line factored heavily in the Avalanche's effort. Linemate Mikko Rantanen scored to make it 1-1 in the opening frame and Sven Andrighetto potted assists on Rantanen's and Nieto's markers to push his current point streak to a career high four-straight games (three goals, three assists).
"Ghettsy and Mikko, we've been really good since we got put together at home against Detroit," said MacKinnon. "Ghettsy, I think he's got 11 points in 13 games since coming here, which is pretty amazing on a team that doesn't score a ton of goals. He's been awesome, and Mikko's been great. I think he's leading our team in goals now. He's only 20, and he's only going to get better. Those two guys have been awesome."
"I'm not surprised. I've seen it the last few years in Montreal," Barberio said of Andrighetto. "He's got great speed, great skill and he's a smart player. He's getting an opportunity to play and he's making the most of it."
Video: Mark Barberio recaps the Avs' loss to Capitals
Colorado ead coach Jared Bednar also likes what he's seen since he put No. 10 with MacKinnon and Rantanen.
"I think every night he's finding a way to make plays, defensively and offensively, and we've talked a little bit about the chemistry that he has with MacK and Mikko," Bednar said. "He just adds another element. He sees the ice real well, so if he can get open and there's a space there for his linemates, he'll find them. And he shoots the puck, too, and goes to the hard areas."
Overall, the team can gain confidence from the way it battled with the top team in the National Hockey League. Though the result was a loss, the effort showed that the Avs didn't give up and that they can challenge the best when they do the work.
"We got to take confidence from that. They've been one of the best teams all season, and we were right there with them. We got down 4-1, but we didn't let our heads hang and we stuck with it," said Barberio. "We got to take that right into our next game. We know we have some tough opponents coming up. I think if our effort is there, if we're willing to play hard defensively, we're going to get our chances, and we have enough talent to score goals."
"That's a really good team that comes at you with every line every shift. There were portions of the game where they took it to us, and there were portions of the game where we took it to them," Bednar said. "I think a couple penalties [hurt us] again, and a power-play goal hits their guy in the chest and goes in. Good things happen when you get a crowd to the net and you're shooting the puck. They earned those, but we answered back a little bit. We pushed back a couple goals and made it interesting, and unfortunately we couldn't finish the job 6-on-5."
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar's postgame news conference
The Colorado Avalanche announced prior to the game that University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks forward Tyson Jost had been signed to a three-year, entry-level contract, concluding his collegiate experience after just one season.
Jost and the Fighting Hawks were eliminated from the NCAA West Regionals on Friday, opening the opportunity for the 19-year-old prospect to begin his professional career.
"He's legit. He's got over a point a game as a freshman in college, as a true freshman, and in the World Juniors he looked awesome," Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon said of Jost. "I was texting with him a little bit yesterday before he made a decision. We have the same agent, so I just wanted to assure him that it's going to get better here. I get why he was maybe a little hesitant, but he just wanted to make sure he's ready for the next step, and he definitely is. On our team, he's going to fit in nicely. He's young and [has] lots of speed. He's legit. He's a player, and he's going to be a big part of our future to try to turn this thing around."
Selected in the first round (No. 10 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Jost finished his only season in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 33 games while playing on North Dakota's top line. He also represented his home nation of Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal/Toronto, helping his squad to a silver medal with four points (one goal, three assists) in seven contests.
Prior to that, the St. Albert, Alberta, native was busy being the British Columbia Hockey League MVP, posting 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) in 48 games with the Penticton Vees. Jost's 62 helpers led BCHL producers, while his 104 points put him third. Averaging 2.17 points per game, Jost was far and away the most offensive player in the league.
He's expected to join the Avalanche on Thursday and conclude the season with the club.
"We'll do the same thing we did with [J.T.] Compher. We'll throw him right into the fire here, and he'll center a line for us," head coach Jared Bednar said. "We haven't exactly worked that out yet, but [he's] a high caliber player, high character player. He has a lot of experience internationally and a good year of college under his belt. He's had a good year there, so we're excited to get him in.
"It's part of the youth movement. We've seen these guys come up and play quality minutes for us and do an admirable job. There's obviously going to be an adjustment period, but we're going to get him in and get him as much experience as we possibly can before the end of the season."
According to Bednar, Jost may not practice or play right away, depending on a couple of factors.
"He might have some immigration to do and some things like that," said Bednar. "I haven't spoken to anyone yet. I haven't had a chance, but the plan is for him to be in our facility tomorrow and then he'll see the docs and all that. Whether he's on the ice with us, as a group tomorrow or not, will be just determined by how things go in the morning."