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MacKinnon Records First NHL Hat Trick

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon was worried his Colorado Avalanche teammates were going to jinx it.

With two goals already, MacKinnon was on the verge of his first NHL hat trick midway through the second period on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We were talking about it on the bench, and Factor (Ryan O'Reilly) said 'let's get him his third one,'" recalled Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, who assisted on MacKinnon's first goal of the night.

MacKinnon heard the conversation, but didn't say anything. He just went about his business and scored the next shift.

"I thought he jinxed it for sure," said MacKinnon, relaxed enough to smile about the moment after the game. "I usually don't believe in that stuff, but he didn't (jinx it). Those guys are very unselfish players and great teammates. They did find me, and thankfully I scored the third one."

MacKinnon's three goals were key as the Avs staved off a third-period rally by the Lightning and picked up a 5-4 victory in front of the home crowd at Pepsi Center.

At 19 years and 174 days, MacKinnon is the youngest player in Avalanche history to record a hat trick. The only player in franchise history to register a hat trick at a younger age was Joe Sakic, who did it twice for the Quebec Nordiques in 1988-89 (19 years, 107 days on Oct. 22, 1988 at N.Y. Islanders and 19 years, 140 days on Nov. 24, 1988 versus Montreal).

It had been awhile for MacKinnon since he found the back of the net. In fact, his last goal was the game-tying tally with 6.8 seconds left in regulation to force overtime on Jan. 17 at Tampa Bay.

"Goals haven't been easy to come by for myself and some of the other guys on the team. To score a couple feels good," MacKinnon said. "Very fortunate, but at the same time if we didn't get the two points it would have been meaningless."

While the pucks haven't been going in, MacKinnon had started racking up the points. He entered the game having recorded four assists in his last five contests.

"He played really well, but he has been playing really well before," said head coach Patrick Roy. "That line seems to click really well lately. Sometimes you just feel it is just a matter of time before it happens."

MacKinnon's line, which includes Landeskog at left wing and O'Reilly at center, had been Colorado's best trio lately. Landeskog had tallied in five straight games, while O'Reilly had three assists in his past four contests and had the primary helper on MacKinnon's last two goals on Sunday versus the Bolts.

O'Reilly helped create MacKinnon's third goal by forcing a turnover at center ice and finding his right wing wide open near the Tampa blue line. With plenty of space, MacKinnon skated in, deked and then held his shot—seeming to add a little extra juice to it—before wristing the puck past the glove of Lightning goalie Andrej Vasilevskiy and inside the right post at 12:50 of the second period.

That made the score 4-2 and resulted in the flurry of hats that soon began to fly inside Pepsi Center, much like the snow that had fallen in Denver in the days prior.

The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native only needed the minimum number of shots (3) to trigger the falling of the hats.

"I had never been a part of a hat trick in his building," Landeskog said of witnessing the 184 hats that found their way to the ice surface. "It was fun to see."

It was Colorado's first hat trick at home since Chris Stewart's on March 6, 2010 against St. Louis, and the first overall since Matt Duchene tallied three times Nov. 4, 2011 at Dallas.

"I don't know if we were waiting for another hat trick, but it is nice to see Nate, a guy who has been snake bitten at times this year break out," Duchene said. "I think it is going to be huge for us down the stretch if he can continue to produce. A game like that gets you going so much."

MacKinnon's second goal at 3:10 of the middle frame again came with help from O'Reilly when he redirected his linemate's shot while skating in front of the blue paint. O'Reilly received a cross-ice pass from Tyson Barrie at the left circle and fired a snap shot that MacKinnon was able to deflect into the net with the blade of his stick.

The first tally came at a crucial time for Colorado with Tampa Bay leading 1-0 late in the first period.

With less than four minutes to go in the opening stanza, MacKinnon took a pass from Landeskog at his own blue line before using his best attribute: his speed. MacKinnon flew by two Lightning defenders through the neutral zone before delivering a backhand shot from the left circle that beat Vasilevskiy's glove on the far side.

"The skating ability that he possesses is one of the biggest assets that a player could have," 35-year-old veteran Alex Tanguay said of the teenager. "We all wish we could have skating abilities like that. That would make the game a lot easier.

"Every time he drives his feet and he moves, he is going to create some offense and tonight he did for us. Those three goals were big."

The last time MacKinnon scored three goals in a game came in junior. Actually, it was the biggest game of his junior career as his hat trick helped give his hometown Halifax Mooseheads a 6-4 victory over the Portland Winterhawks in the 2013 Memorial Cup Final.

While his last three-goal outing will always be special, his first one in the NHL was also pretty neat.

"The pucks were just finding me tonight," MacKinnon said. "Very fortunate to get a hat trick, and definitely a lot of fun. It was cool to see hats go on the ice."

HEJDA DAY-TO-DAY WITH KNEE INJURY

Jan Hejda missed his first game of the season on Sunday night due to a knee injury. He is listed day to day.

Entering the contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Hejda was one of eight players that had appeared in each of the team's first 59 games this year.

Stefan Elliott replaced Hejda in the lineup, appearing in his first game since Feb. 12 against the New York Rangers. Elliott had been a healthy scratch in the Avs' last four contests and was paired with Hejda's most recent defensive partner, Zach Redmond, during the contest.

POINT STREAK EXTENDED FOR LANDESKOG

Gabriel Landeskog's career-high five-game goal streak came to an end Sunday, but his point streak lives on.

He assisted on MacKinnon's first period goal to extend his point streak to six games (five goals, two assists), which ties Alex Tanguay (Oct. 16-28) for the longest such stretch by an Avalanche player this season.

The assist was also the 100th helper of his NHL career.

Landeskog had been the first player to score in five consecutive games since Milan Hejduk did it on March 4-14, 2007.

MILITARY APPRECIATION NIGHT

The Colorado Avalanche hosted its fourth annual "Military Appreciation Night" on Sunday at Pepsi Center, honoring each branch of the U.S. military.

The Avs donned green camouflage jerseys for warmup, which were then signed by each player and will be auctioned off at www.auction.nhl.com. The auction ends March 9, with all proceeds benefiting Kroenke Sports Charities.

Colorado had a special ceremonial faceoff as staff sergeant John Perozzi, a veteran of World War II, dropped the puck between Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. Click here to watch Perozzi's full story.

On the concourse before and during the contest, the Avs Better Halves were selling mystery player-signed T-shirts, which helped benefit their community programs through Kroenke Sports Charities.

The Avalanche is now 4-0 all-time on Military Appreciation Night, including 2-0 versus the Lightning. Colorado and Tampa Bay met in last season's Military Appreciation Night, with the Avs winning 6-3.

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