Gabriel Landeskog had a game that one of the NHL's greatest players of all time would have been proud of, as the Colorado Avalanche captain recorded a "Gordie Howe" Hat Trick with a goal, an assist and a fight in Game 1 of the team's first-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues.
Landeskog and his linemates of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen set the tone in the contest and contributed three goals in the third period on Monday at Ball Arena to give the Avalanche a 4-1 win versus the rival Blues.
The Stockholm, Sweden, native finished with a goal and two assists in Game 1 for his second career three-point outing and eighth multi-point night in the postseason. Landeskog also had a goal and two assists on April 17, 2018 in Game 3 of the Round 1 series versus the Nashville Predators.
"Listen, playoffs, you start over, right? You know, your stats during the regular season don't matter. In fact, your postseason stats don't matter at all," Landeskog said. "For us, it's about wins and losses and that is what it comes down to. Yeah, I'm happy that I was able to contribute, but as a team I thought we played a strong game. Second period, toward the end of it, we kind of got away from our game, but I thought overall the third period was really good and everybody chipped in, everybody played well."
Video: Landeskog after his three-point performance in Game 1
It was Landeskog's first-ever Gordie Howe hat trick, and the team's first in the postseason since Mike Ricci in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 16, 1997 at McNichols Arena in Denver.
Valeri Nichushkin had the club's last recorded "Gordie Howe," doing so in the regular season on Dec. 23, 2019 at the Vegas Golden Knights.
"I thought Gabe was outstanding, leading the way right away, even jumping in and getting involved physically when Mikko took that hit," said head coach Jared Bednar.
Landeskog lit a fire in front of the 7,741 mask-wearing crowd at Ball Arena with a fight at 10:47 of the first period with the Blues' Brayden Schenn, moments after Schenn collided with Rantanen in the neutral zone. It was the first fight by a Colorado player in the postseason since Cody McCormick in Game 2 of the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings' Darren McCarty (April 26, 2008).
The Avalanche captain said there were a few reasons why he dropped the gloves with Schenn, and not all of them were due to that particular hit.
"Obviously I'm going to stand up for my teammates," Landeskog said. "I didn't think the hit was that bad. I think Mikko tried to dodge him a little bit, he comes in. I don't think he put his knee out or anything, I don't think it was a dirty play. I kind of had a feeling that Schenn was going to run around a little bit in the first period. He's a physical player, he's a good player, so just had to stand up for my teammates. Obviously here, playing at home, I thought our first 10 minutes of that period was a little bit, we were tiptoeing into it a little bit, some nerves and adrenaline or whatever, so I thought that was going to calm it down a little bit and get the crowd into it."
Video: STL@COL, Gm1: Landeskog deflects a shot into the net
Landeskog scored at 8:30 of the third period to give Colorado a 3-1 lead at the time, as he was able to deflect Nathan MacKinnon's one-time blast from the blue line into the net while stationed in the low slot. He had assists on both of MacKinnon's markers in the third period that secured the Avs a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"He's the captain for a reason," said defenseman Cale Makar postgame. "Think he had a Gordie Howe hat trick, so for us that was a good tempo setter right away. We might have got away from our game a little bit in the second period there, but we were able to find a way in the third. So I think he definitely set the tempo."
The unique hat trick is named after Howe, who is presently fourth all-time in league scoring with 1,850 points and brought a mixture of offense and physicality to the way he played the game, all 1,767 in his NHL career that spanned from 1946 to 1980--a league record he held until Patrick Marleau broke it this past season (1,779).
Nathan MacKinnon joined Landeskog with a three-point night, contributing two goals and an assist. It was his 17th multi-point outing in the postseason, the fourth-most in the club's history.
MacKinnon now has 22 career playoff goals and moved into a tie with Adam Deadmarsh (22) for ninth place in franchise history. His three points give him 57 in his career, and he surpassed both Claude Lemieux (55) and Deadmarsh (56) in the game for the eighth-most points in Colorado/Quebec history. His now 35 assists are tied for sixth in the annals.
In Avs history (since 1995-96), the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native ranks seventh in goals, fifth in assists and sixth in points.
MacKinnon's first goal of the game was the game-winner, the sixth of his career in the postseason to move into a tie with Alex Tanguay for fourth in franchise playoff history.
RETURN FROM INJURIES
The Avalanche got some bodies back in the lineup for Game 1 as forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Brandon Saad returned to action after missing time with respective lower-body injuries.
MacKinnon missed four of the final five regular-season games, only suiting up in last Monday's outing at the Vegas Golden Knights.
Saad's previous game was April 24 at St. Louis, as he was unavailable for the last 11 outings of the season.
"It's been fun to watch the things they do, next man-up mentality, different types of wins each game and obviously cap it off with the Presidents' Trophy, I'm excited for the team," Saad said after morning skate of the Avs' run in the final weeks of the season. "Big accomplishment, but we're looking forward to the playoffs."
Defenseman Conor Timmins also suited up after not being able to finish the season finale on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Devan Dubnyk was removed from the NHL's COVID-protocol list on Friday and skated on his own for the first time before Sunday's practice. He joined the Avs for morning skate on Monday but didn't dress in the game.
Jonas Johansson was the backup keeper, suiting up in his first playoff contest, though he didn't see action.
"I think JJ has done a real nice job for us here in his last few starts," said head coach Jared Bednar before Game 1. "He's been able to get better and improve every game since coming to us. He'll backup tonight. Duby just got on the ice yesterday for the first time, so he's going to need a little work to get back to where he needs to be. So for now anyways, JJ will be the backup."
Dubnyk had been in COVID protocol since May 3.
NEWHOOK'S PLAYOFF DEBUT
Alex Newhook made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, skating 7:07. He started the contest on the fourth line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and J.T. Compher.
"You know, stepping in and obviously getting a chance to play tonight, it's an exciting moment for him, and obviously the organization and coaching staff see that he can bring something to the table," said Brandon Saad before Game 1. "Just seeing it from afar, I haven't got to be around him too much, but obviously he has tremendous talent. He's playing with confidence, so all that goes into it, and then playing with good players too helps. But I think he definitely has a great future."
The rookie made his NHL debut on May 5 in San Jose and skated in each of the final six regular-season contests, recording three assists.
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
The Avalanche is 28-17 (.622) in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series, including 19-7 (.731) in such contests on home ice.
Every Colorado skater recorded a shot on net, paced by Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichushkin (postseason career high) and Mikko Rantanen with six each.
Mikko Rantanen has now produced 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 34 career postseason contests, just the fourth player in franchise history to reach 40 points in 34 games or fewer: Peter Stastny (28), Joe Sakic (30), Nathan MacKinnon (33).
Philipp Grubauer made his 20th postseason start for the Avalanche, moving past Jose Theodore for the fourth most by a goaltender in franchise history. He earned his 13th playoff win with Colorado, moving past Dan Bouchard and into third place in Colorado/Quebec history.
Cale Makar notched his sixth career postseason goal, surpassing Ray Bourque to take sole possession of fourth place on the franchise's list of playoff goals by a defenseman.