A slow start turned bad for the Colorado Avalanche when Charlie Coyle gave the Minnesota Wild a 1-0 lead just 4:16 into Saturday’s Game 2.
With nothing really working for the Avs, 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon changed the game with one amazing individual play and jump-started Colorado to a 4-2 win.
MacKinnon got the puck in his own end, raced through two Wild players at center ice and into Minnesota’s zone. Once there, he put an ankle-breaking move on defenseman Jared Spurgeon and blasted a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov.
It was a hold-your-breath moment, one of many to come.
“Certainly on the ice, the skills he’s got, the way he skates, I haven’t seen anything like it,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said.
MacKinnon’s goal grabbed the momentum for Colorado and sparked a big night from his line. He and Paul Stastny finished with a goal and three assists apiece, and Landeskog had two goals. The trio combined for 10 of the team’s 11 points, and, more importantly, a 2-0 lead in the series with Game 3 in Minnesota on Monday night.
Stastny and MacKinnon became the first Avalanche players to record consecutive three-point games in the same postseason since Theo Fleury had three points in Games 5 and 6 on May 1 and 3 to close out the 1999 conference quarterfinal against San Jose.
If the Wild wants to stay in this series it will likely have to figure out how to stop MacKinnon and company. The teenager is just the second NHL player to score seven points in his first two postseason games and the second youngest to have four points in a playoff game.
No point was bigger than his goal, which gave Colorado life.
“That first goal was an unbelievable play by Razor (MacKinnon's nickname in the Avs dressing room),” Stastny said. “That changed the whole momentum of the game. [Minnesota] came out early--they were all over us; they had a couple of power plays--and they scored a goal. When he scores that it completely settles us down. That first goal was the turning point.”
MacKinnon didn’t stop there. Early in the second period he drove deep into the Minnesota end, drawing the defense, and then left a drop pass for Landeskog, who blasted a shot past Bryzgalov to give Colorado a 2-1 lead.
Nine minutes later, a tic-tac-toe play from Mackinnon to Stastny to Landeskog gave the Avalanche a 3-1 lead.
“That line was on fire tonight. They played really well,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “They were moving the puck really well, skating well. It was the third goal that Paul put it to Landy ... wow, that was a super goal.”
Leading up to the series the concern was how the inexperienced Avalanche would handle the spotlight of the postseason. Eleven players made their playoffs debut in Game 1 but so far the pressure hasn’t bothered them.
“We know we have talent in this room and we know we have offensive abilities,” Landeskog said.
Once they got the lead, goaltender Semyon Varlamov took over. He recovered from allowing the early goal to Coyle to stop 30 shots. Several times he made big saves when it looked like the Wild had a chance to make it another nail-biter.
“The goalie doesn’t always need to be perfect, he needs to find a way to winm and tonight he was rock solid,” Roy said of Varlamov. “He made some key saves at the right time.”
About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Avalanche was a little bad luck. P.A. Parenteau, who left briefly after Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin’s stick caught him near his left eye, returned and appeared to give Colorado a 4-1 lead with an empty-net goal. But the play was blown offsides even though replays showed the puck entered the zone before Parenteau.
Moments later the Wild scored to make it 3-2, but Stastny, after missing an open net moments later, iced it with his third goal of the playoffs, coming off an assist from MacKinnon.
After the game MacKinnon was the center of attention but he handled it like a seasoned veteran. He did admit to watching the replay of his goal on the big screen, but no one would blame him. It was highlight-reel worthy.
“I did, I won’t lie about that,” he said. “It was my first playoff goal, so it was pretty exciting.”
So is the Avalanche, who is quickly showing youth should be celebrated.
“Obviously I still feel like a kid. I’m only 18 still and I’m not trying to grow up too fast,” MacKinnon said. “I’m trying to enjoy this. I’m not the only young guy on the team.”
No, but he’s proving the younger the better.