Colorado controlled the play early in the first period, registering four shots in the first two minutes, but Toronto grabbed the lead off an unlucky bounce of sorts for the home team at 3:56 of the stanza.
Looking for Phil Kessel in the neutral zone, Toronto's Dion Phaneuf sent a leading pass to the forward that was just a bit far of his reach. The puck sailed down the ice and caromed off the Colorado end wall to the right circle just as Kessel, trying to beat out the icing, got to the puck first and fired a shot past the blocker of Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.
"The worst is I thought we had a great start," Roy said. "They made a nice play to clear the zone and Kessel was all alone, and they scored on a nice shot."
Despite the early goal, Colorado stayed with it and continued to get good shots on net and at one point had an 11-2 shot advantage.
However, Toronto scored twice on outside shots while Varlamov was screened and took a 3-0 lead early in the second period. The Maple Leafs held off a late run by the Avalanche and picked up their sixth straight victory, 5-2 on Tuesday night.
"It happens," Roy said of the loss for Varlamov, who went 11-0-5 in his previous 16 decisions and suffered his first regulation loss since Dec. 10. "He was so good for us. There are nights like this as a goalie where the puck has eyes. They find their way in and it was like this tonight."
Colorado made it interesting in the end, though, as Nathan MacKinnon scored late in the second period and early in the third to make the score 4-2 and get the Pepsi Center crowd back into the game.
"We pushed hard, but their goalie made some big saves for them," MacKinnon said. "I think we need to clean up our second period. This game could have been very different.”
The Avalanche outshot the Maple Leafs 17-7 in the final period but was unable to close the two-goal gap before Toronto scored a late empty-net goal.
"One thing I'm happy is, we didn't quit," Roy said. "We kept going at them and we had some chances in the third to come back in that game, and we just didn't score the goal that would have brought the game to a one-goal game."
The Avs were close to making it a one-goal game as Matt Duchene had a shorthanded breakaway chance during a Leafs power play at 11:20 of the third period, but he couldn't get a get good shot off as Phaneuf slashed his stick and the puck rolled off his blade.
MACKINNON NETS TWO AGAIN
Nathan MacKinnon recorded his third multi-goal game of the month of January and helped ignite the Avs in the third period.
The rookie recorded his first two multi-goal efforts in back-to-back contests, Jan. 4-6 against San Jose and Calgary.
"Nate is a type of player like this. He always goes. He plays hard," Roy said. "Since the start of the season, seeing him playing like this, play hard. It's great for us to have a player like this on our team."
MacKinnon's first tally came after Parenteau fed him the puck in the slot, and he beat Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer on the glove side.
His second goal of the night and 17th of the season was from a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. He got a pass from Maxime Talbot, stickhandled, and fired the puck over Reimer's left shoulder.
MacKinnon continues to lead all NHL rookies in goals (17) and points (33).
Right wing PA Parenteau made his return to the lineup for the Avalanche, just over three weeks after suffering a knee injury Dec. 29 against Winnipeg. He was originally supposed to be out six weeks but only missed 10 games.
"It was a quick recovery," Parenteau said after morning skate. "The guys did a good job, the strength coach (Casey Bond), [head athletic trainer] Matt Sokolowski, they are good at what they do. It was quick. I got lucky."
Parenteau began the game on the fourth line with Patrick Bordeleau and Marc-Andre Cliche, but he didn't stay there long. By the second period he had moved up and saw playing time with a few different players, including Nathan MacKinnon, John Mitchell and Max Talbot.
"I was a little rusty [in the] first period, you know, the timing, the speed of the game and stuff, but it got back to me a little bit in the second, more in the third," Parenteau said. "I’m pretty happy with my first game overall.”
Parenteau played 12:06 and had two hits, a blocked shot and a takeaway, while also assisting on Colorado's first goal at 18:35 of the second period.
JOHNSON AND MITCHELL HEALTHY, ENOUGH
Defenseman Erik Johnson and forward John Mitchell were both suffering from the flu Tuesday morning and were going to be game-time decisions on if they would take the ice for the 7 p.m. puck drop.
Both players missed the morning skate practice but felt good enough to give it a go and play against the Maple Leafs.
Mitchell also missed Monday's practice, while Johnson participated in the session before getting ill in the afternoon.
Mitchell played 14:07 and had two shots and three hits, while Johnson saw 23:34 of ice time and had two shots, a hit and a blocked shot.
DENVER-BASED REFEREE HONORED
Prior to the opening faceoff, the Avalanche, the Maple Leafs and the NHL honored referee Brad Watson, who was officiating in his 1000th NHL game.
Watson and his family were presented with team signed sticks from Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and a Tiffany crystal from the league.
He was joined in the ceremony by his wife Amy, 9-year-old son Reid—who also joined him during pregame introductions while wearing referee gear—7-year-old daughter Genabeth and his fellow officials.
Watson, who was raised in Regina, Saskatchewan but now lives in the Denver metro area, refereed his first game on March 7, 1996 and officiated his first playoff game on April 13, 2000, when the Avalanche hosted the Coyotes.
He has also refereed in seven Stanley Cup finals. Read more on Watson here.
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
- The Avalanche reassigned Karl Stollery to Lake Erie on Monday. The team activated Nate Guenin and PA Parenteau on Tuesday from injured reserve.
- Jean-Sebastien Giguere replaced Semyon Varlamov in net at 2:55 of the second period. It was Giguere's first action in net since Jan. 6 versus Calgary.
- Roy said after the game that Varlamov will still play Friday in Florida and Giguere will play Saturday at Tampa Bay.
- Brad Malone and Nate Guenin were scratches for the Avs.