After three and a half weeks out of the lineup, Erik Johnson made his return for the Colorado Avalanche and provided a veteran presence on the backend that he is known for.
Johnson was solid in his first game since suffering a lower-body injury on Nov. 23, but his club couldn't hold off the Carolina Hurricanes as they rallied to defeat the Avs 3-1 on Thursday night at Pepsi Center.
The defenseman played 20:47 and had three shots and blocked five others. He saw action on both sides of special teams, skating 2:42 on the penalty kill and 3:08 while Colorado had the man advantage. He was part of the club's second power-play unit alongside Andre Burakovsky, J.T. Compher, Joonas Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin.
"I thought he was good. I didn't mind him at all. I thought he was moving pretty good for missing the time that he did," said Avs head coach Jared Bednar of Johnson. "He made some plays, pretty poised with the puck, it's good to have him back."
Johnson got hurt 26 days earlier in a home outing against the Toronto Maple Leafs. As he was skating back for the puck in that contest, he was pushed headfirst into the end boards by Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot, who was later assessed a two-game suspension by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his involvement in the play.
The Bloomington, Minnesota, native was able to finish that game against Toronto and even tried practicing three days later in a non-contact jersey, but he ultimately needed more time to recover. He started skating again regularly on Dec. 12 and had took to the ice nearly every day while the team was on the road earlier this week at St. Louis and Chicago.
As he's accustomed to doing, Johnson was a workhorse in his first game back and played with several different defensive partners during the game, though he was mostly paired with Anton Lindholm at even-strength play.
While Bednar didn't have any complaints of Johnson's play, how the game ended was a different matter.
The Avalanche led 1-0 in the third period before the Hurricanes tallied three straight in the final three minutes of regulation. Andrei Svechnikov won a puck battle in front of the net at 17:04, and Colorado native Jaccob Slavin tallied 1:17 later on an odd-man rush to give Carolina its first lead of the night. The now 22-11-2 Canes added an empty-net marker in the final seconds.
"That is a real good hockey team over there," Bednar said. "Good speed, good grit, determination, great special teams. No. 1 in the league combined special teams, No. 1 in the league combined special teams by a long shot in the last 10 games, so you got to grind, you got to earn everything you get… We're up 1-0 with three minutes to go, chance to win a hockey game. To me, it's one or two plays at the end of the game. We got to be better than that."
Video: Jared Bednar after the loss to Carolina
Gabriel Landeskog broke a 0-0 stalemate at 4:05 of the third period as he deflected Nathan MacKinnon's shot during a power play. It was Colorado's sixth man-advantage opportunity of the night, but the team seemed to have been building momentum on each chance against the No. 2 penalty kill in the NHL this year.
"I guess the main thing is we stuck with it. We needed one in the third in a tie hockey game, and we're able to get one," Landeskog said. "But our power play needs to be better, and we know that. Saying that, they are a top penalty kill in the league and they made it tough on us."
Landeskog now has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games and 429 points for his career. The marker moved him up several scoring lists as he takes sole possession of 11th place from Matt Duchene for points in franchise history and seventh place in Avalanche history (since 1995-96).
The tally also marked the 48th of his career on the power play, surpassing Paul Stastny (47) for 10th place in franchise history and fifth in the Avs' annals.
Video: CAR@COL: Landeskog deflects in power-play goal
KEEP ON STREAKING
With the assist on Landeskog's goal, Nathan MacKinnon extended his point streak to seven games. He has three goals and six assists in that span and has 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in his last 16 outings.
It is the third time this season that MacKinnon has had a point streak of at least seven games. In fact, all but eight of his points this year--four each in two separate games--have come during point streaks.
MacKinnon is still third in the league in scoring with 53 points, while his 32 assists rank fifth overall.
The Avalanche hosts the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday to wrap up its two-game homestand and season series with its division rival. Colorado has won each of the first three matchups of the year against Chicago, including by a 4-1 score on Wednesday night.
Colorado reassigned defenseman Calle Rosen to the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles after the game.
Ian Cole's six blocked shots matched a season high (also: Nov. 30 vs. Chicago).
Colorado concluded its sixth back-to-back set of the season. The Avs are 3-3-0 in the second half of consecutive-night sets in 2019-20.
The Avalanche is now 10-2-2 against Eastern Conference squads this year.