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Compher Scores Game-Winning First Goal

The rookie's third-period tally helped the Avalanche to a 3-1 win over the Red Wings

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

The anticipation had been building for J.T. Compher in his first seven games. The Colorado Avalanche rookie was seeing more and more ice time and was getting more and more good scoring chances, but he was still searching for that first NHL goal.

Compher finally got it Wednesday night in his eighth contest, and the tally was a big one against the Detroit Red Wings at Pepsi Center. The forward's marker early in the third period gave the Avs their first lead of the night and it held up as the game-winner in the club's 3-1 victory.

"It was pretty special. It's nice to get that first one out of the way, but really fun to do it in a win," the 21-year-old said afterward. "The guys were really excited for me, which makes me feel a little better. Overall, it was a fun night. A good two points." 

It only seemed like a matter of time before the Northbrook, Illinois, native would find twine. He had two great opportunities on Monday at Arizona, hitting the post on a short-handed breakaway and then getting a tip that just missed. 

This time it was a shot from the slot that beelined over Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard's blocker and into the top corner of the net at 3:49 of the final stanza. 

The sequence developed after Compher took a stretch pass in the neutral zone from Francois Beauchemin before cutting inside in the Red Wings end and having plenty of time and space to shoot.

"I had [Mikhail Grigorenko] going to the net, and he drove the 'D' back," Compher recalled. "I was looking to slide it to him, but once the D-man slid back, I walked into the slot and had a little opening there." 

Since being called up from the San Antonio Rampage on March 1 and making his NHL debut the next night at the Ottawa Senators, Compher has played a key role for the club. From that first game, he's taken faceoffs and has been an intricate part of the Avs' power play and penalty kill.

Head coach Jared Bednar has even called him the team's best player at times.

"He's a smart player, a really smart player," Bednar said. "Plays with some pace. He's kind of been all over the lineup for us, playing with some different wingers, trying to find some guys to get some chemistry with him. We know how our top six kind of shakes out right now. So finding some guys that complement right now. Maybe we don't have the perfect fit there, but that line (with Joe Colborne and Grigorenko) was pretty good tonight.

"He is starting to create some chances and find some room there. I think he can do more of that."

Video: Compher on scoring his first NHL goal

First goals can be funny things. Sometimes they come on the first shot in the first game, while other times they never arrive.

Compher wasn't worried about netting marker No. 1. He wanted to concentrate on his entire game, including at the dot where he went 6-for-10 versus the Red Wings, the fourth-best faceoff team in the league.

"Obviously, you want to produce and you want to put up points, but for me there is a lot more to my game that I try and focus on," Compher said. "Even though points weren't coming, I thought there was a lot of good things I was doing. Usually when you play well and work hard, you get rewarded and that's what I think happened tonight."

Now that the first one is out of the way, the little piece of vulcanized rubber with the Avalanche logo on one side and the NHL shield and commissioner Garry Bettman's signature on the other needs a place to be displayed.

Compher already has a spot in mind.

"I think that one is going to my parents," he said. "It will be a pretty fun moment to get that puck to them."

Seems like the perfect resting place.

DUCHENE BREAKS THROUGH

Matt Duchene closed his eyes, raised his head and arms up and breathed a sigh of relief.

Those were the moments after Duchene scored his 17th of the season, which ended an 11-game goalless drought. More importantly, it tied the outing 1-1 with 7:52 left in the second period

"I just felt relief. I've never gone through a stretch of hockey like I just did, going 11 games without absolutely nothing," Duchene said. "As an offensive guy--the game isn't all about points, it's about winning first and foremost--but at the same time it's my role on this team to help the team win."

Video: Duchene on breaking his slump

The Avs forward's tally came after he deflected Fedor Tyutin's shot from the point on net and then picked up the rebound and fired the puck through just enough space on the short side.

The tying goal seemed to jumpstart Colorado's offense as the squad went on to score two more in the third en route to the victory.

"I think he scores, he gets confidence," Bednar said. "He wants the puck. He wants to be on the ice. He wants to continue to make plays, and he becomes more dangerous after he scores and he is involved in our offense. So that is a good sign for him, and I think our team knows that, too. They feel good about it when he is on the board and when the team is on the board. We gain confidence quickly."

Prior to the marker, Duchene had tallied only once in his past 25 games and had recorded no points in the previous 11 outings as well.

LINDHOLM MAKES NHL DEBUT

Defenseman Anton Lindholm skated in his first NHL game on Wednesday night, becoming the sixth player to do so with Colorado this season.

The Skelleftea, Sweden, native finished with a game-high three hits (tied), two shot attempts, one block and a plus-1 rating in 14:32 of ice time while being paired on defense with Francois Beauchemin.

"What I liked about him was tonight when they put the puck behind him, he got back there and retrieved it in a hurry," said head coach Jared Bednar after the contest. "Got a good touch on it, made the right decisions and bumped it to our guys who were coming to support him. Simple plays, in and out of the zone all night almost for him. I thought he was really good."

Video: Coach Bednar's postgame press conference

Lindholm, who was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of AHL on Monday afternoon, joins J.T. Compher, A.J. Greer, Samuel Henley, Spencer Martin and Jeremy Smith as players who have appeared their first games in the NHL this year with the Avs.

Competing at the pro level is nothing new for the 22-year-old, as he had skated in 75 regular-season games and 45 postseason contests in parts of the past five years in the Swedish Hockey League with Skelleftea AIK. He helped his hometown club win the league championship in 2014 and finish runner-up in 2015 and 2016.

Lindholm had 12 points (two goals and 10 assists) in 59 games with the Rampage before being recalled.

NIETO OUT WITH INJURY

Forward Matt Nieto missed his first game as a member of the Avalanche on Wednesday night as he was dealing with a minor knee injury.

Nieto had played in all 30 contests with Colorado since being claimed on waivers from the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 5, registering five goals and three assists. In total, he has 10 points (five goals and five assists) in 46 NHL games this season.

The Avalanche's other scratches were defensemen Cody Goloubef and Patrick Wiercioch.

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