It's not easy for a professional hockey player to watch the game from outside the boards instead of competing from within.
For those that make the NHL, the desire to play has been with them since they were young skaters and that craving has helped get them to the pinnacle of the sport. So, to watch instead of physically helping their teammates on the ice can be tough for those players that are scratched nightly, but having a positive attitude and continuing to work hard can be key to them returning to the lineup, whenever that might be.
Because of several injuries the Colorado Avalanche sustained in its last outing, forward Matt Nieto was reinserted into the Avs' game roster against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, and he and his linemates made the most out of the opportunity.
Nieto potted each one of the trio's three goals, and the Avalanche ended a three-game losing streak by defeating the Stars 5-3 at Pepsi Center.
It was Nieto's first NHL hat trick and third three-point outing in his 267-game career.
"Matt Nieto, that is a response," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. "That was a great performance, 200 feet, killing penalties, he was outstanding and he goes out and gets three goals as well. Sometimes different guys step up. You need different players and different lines and different combinations to step up every once and awhile to win hockey games."
Nieto was only playing in his fourth contest of the season and had been a healthy scratch in each of the previous two outings. He reentered the lineup after forwards J.T. Compher (broken thumb), Tyson Jost (lower body) and Colin Wilson (undisclosed) and defenseman Patrik Nemeth (lower body) each got banged up in the Avs' last game on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.
"I was itching to get back into the lineup," Nieto said. "Unfortunately, I came back in because of injuries, but that is the name of the game. I just tried to prepare myself to be ready the next chance I get in. I thought I did that tonight."
The Long Beach, California, native went to the tough areas of the ice to pick up his markers. He buried rebounds in front of the net with 6:15 remaining in the first period to tie the contest at 1-1 and at 2:14 of the second frame to give the Avs a brief 2-1 lead.
Video: DAL@COL: Nieto records his first career hat trick
Nieto's third tally was the one that made the hats fly from the seats, as he found the back of an empty net with less than four seconds left in regulation after linemate Blake Comeau found him with the puck.
"He just has great hockey IQ all around," said Comeau of Nieto. "He's such a smart player. He's always in the right spots and if you look at his goals tonight, it was just going to the hard areas. You might get cross checked, you might get hit, but it is nice to see him get rewarded. He's worked extremely hard to get back in the lineup. Any time you're sitting out and to have a good attitude like he's had, it's nice to see him rewarded."
Comeau finished with three assists while the center of the combo, Carl Soderberg, had two helpers and ended with a plus-3 rating.
Nieto's second goal was the result of a full-line effort after Comeau came in on the forecheck, stole the puck away from Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop behind the net and passed it to the front where Soderberg and Nieto were waiting. Soderberg took the first whack at it, and Nieto finished the scoring sequence before Bishop could get fully back in position.
"He's one of the goaltenders that I think is one of the better ones in playing the puck," Comeau said of Bishop. "If you don't forecheck him, he's going to stand behind the net waiting for something to open up. I just tried to go right at him. I don't know [if] he saw me, I came in behind him. I knew Carl was out front and I tried to get it out as fast as I could, and it was a good job of Niets to come back to the front of the net and just tapping it in."
Video: Blake Comeau on the win against the Stars
Colorado led 4-2 going into the final period, but Dallas made it a one-score game after John Klingberg tallied midway through the stanza. That made for some tense final minutes for the Pepsi Center faithful.
The Soderberg-centered line's biggest moment might have come in the final 15 seconds of the contest when Bednar sent the group out to win a defensive-zone faceoff. Soderberg won the draw, and Nieto scored seconds later to seal the win.
Bednar said the decision to go with that line instead of others was an easy choice based on its overall play and how it had shut down the opposing combo with the Stars' Jaime Benn, who had three points (one goal and two assists) but none against the Avs' so-called third line.
"You got to go with the guys that are going on that particular night," Bednar said. "Hopefully we have different guys stepping up all the time, and we're a four-line team like we were tonight."
Nieto's three goals put him in the spotlight, but he knows it can't just be a one-game performance for him or the rest of the team. They have to keep their effort going every contest, and that continues Friday when the Avs begin a back-to-back at the Vegas Golden Knights.
"In this league, you're only as good as your last game," Nieto said. "This was definitely a good start for me to get back in the lineup and to be able to produce. Now it is just being consistent and bringing that effort every night."
Still, Nieto will cherish this moment. It's not easy to score in the NHL, and for him to pick up his first three-score performance since his junior season at Boston University in 2012-13 is special.
"It is definitely a hard thing to accomplish in this league," Nieto said. "I'll definitely remember this night."
A BARRIE GOOD STREAK
Tyson Barrie being on a point streak is nothing new for a 50-plus-point getter, but the defenseman is now in unchartered territory.
The Avalanche blueliner assisted on Mark Barberio's goal late in the second period to stretch his current point streak to a career-long six games. His longest previous streak was contests, an achievement he hit twice.
Video: DAL@COL: Barberio buries carom off the boards
Barrie has one goal and five assists during this stretch and is tied with Matt Duchene for the team scoring lead with eight points (two goals and six assists) through the first nine contests of the year.
He is also one point away from joining some select company in team lore. Barrie's next goal or assist will be his 200th point in an Avs uniform, becoming the sixth blueliner in franchise history to accomplish the feat.
Only John-Michael Liles (275), Adam Foote (259), Sandis Ozolinsh (253), Rob Blake (208) and Mario Marois (200) have reached the milestone during their tenure with the Avalanche or Quebec Nordiques.
BARBERIO'S MEMORABLE 200TH
Mark Barberio appeared in his 200th NHL game in Tuesday night's Avs victory, and he celebrated the occasion by scoring the contest's winning goal.
"It's a dream come true to just play one game in the NHL, and tonight was my 200th game. I feel really lucky to have gone this far, and I want to keep going obviously," Barberio said. "Obviously the biggest thing is the win, and we got this three-game slide out of the back of our minds."
Barberio tallied his first marker of the season with 9.8 seconds remaining in the second period. The Montreal native's goal came after Tyson Barrie's shot from the right point caromed off the end wall and right to him at the left point, where he was waiting with a slap shot that found twine.
The tally was Barberio's third with the Avalanche since he was picked up on waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2. The defenseman was playing in his 41st game with Colorado.
Video: Mark Barberio talks about his 200th NHL game