Along the south shore of picturesque Lake Tahoe, the Colorado Avalanche was set to play an outdoor afternoon affair at the foot of snow-capped mountains and beside North America's largest alpine lake.
The beautiful, bluebird day turned out to be to much for the manmade rink to handle, and the contest against the Vegas Golden Knights was interrupted due to challenging ice conditions resulting from extreme sun.
Colorado rolled with the punches though and earned a 3-2 victory against Vegas on Saturday evening when the final whistle blew more than 10 hours after the initial puck drop.
The first period ended at 1:55 p.m. MT before an eight-hour intermission in the interest of player safety due to the ice conditions. The outing was able to restart with the final 40 minutes of play at 10:03 p.m. MT.
During the delay, the ice crew went to work while the players went back to the hotel for a bite to eat and a nap for those that could fall asleep. When the game resumed, the on-ice product was strong for the last two regulation periods.
"The setting was incredible, it was a beautiful day here, almost too nice I guess because we get delayed, but the evening was fun too, playing in under lights was a great situation," said head coach Jared Bednar. "I wish we could have had fans here today, but there was something special about just coming and just having the two teams here. It was a quiet setting; it was a beautiful setting and to just kind of be able to go play and have no distractions of friends and family and everyone here. We were able to relax and enjoy the moment, enjoy the game and being in a quiet setting like that."
Video: Lake Tahoe game opening ceremony
The long day ended up giving the Avalanche the rare opportunity of playing both in daylight and under the lights, seeing the Sierra Nevada mountains reflect on the lake to start the contest and feeling the cold air come off of the water in the darkness of night.
"I think it was great. At the start with the daylight, you could see the view and all of that, it looked really cool in person and also in the pictures and what I saw on TV," said Mikko Rantanen. "It was a great scene for this game and obviously probably the last two periods were better hockey for the fans too. The ice was a lot better and guys were not falling over all the time, and guys were able to handle the puck. So, a little bit better hockey the last two periods, but overall a great day and great experience."
The Avalanche is 2-1-0 against Vegas through the first three meetings of a four-game stretch of contests against the Golden Knights. Each game in the set has been decided by one goal, and Colorado has edged Vegas by a combined score of 6-5 through those three contests. The teams are slated to meet again on Monday at Ball Arena in Denver.
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar after the outdoor win
"We're now three quarters of the way through a mini-series against a real good team in Vegas," said Bednar. "A quarter into the season, it's a good time to measure our team against another top team in the league and in our division, the first time we are seeing them. The first two games have been played real hard, we figured this one would be the exact same and wanted to put our best foot forward… It was a huge two points, now we still got one more in the series."
Having memories of competing in a professional hockey game lakeside under the lights is one that that the Avs players will likely have forever, but also getting the win makes the moment a little sweeter.
"Luckily, we were able to get it done here tonight and the ice was great, and I thought we came out and played a pretty solid game," said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog. "I think the overall experience, it was amazing, and I think it's a memory of a lifetime. And, finally we broke the curse of these outdoor games and we were able to win one, so it makes it a lot more special."
Colorado is now 1-2-0 in NHL outdoor games.
Video: Gabe Landeskog after the Avalanche's outdoor win
MacKINNON'S THREE-POINT GAME
Nathan MacKinnon finished with a goal and two assists to match the all-time mark for the most points by a player in an NHL outdoor game. It was the second time MacKinnon has recorded multiple points in an NHL outdoor contest, as he notched two points (one goal, one assist) at the 2016 Stadium Series versus the Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field.
He boosted his career production to five points (two goals, three assists) in three outdoor games, trailing only Henrik Zetterberg (seven points in four games) and Jonathan Toews (seven points in six games) for the most career points playing outdoors.
Video: VGK@COL: MacKinnon blazes past defenders and scores
"I thought Nate was outstanding tonight. He just looked like a man on a mission right from the get-go," said Bednar. "He was skating real well, good pressure on the puck up ice to create turnovers. I thought he didn't overpass the puck tonight, he was putting pucks to the net, he looked like a real confident player and part of that too was his checking… He was good on both sides of the puck, not just the three goals, on the defensive side of it he was excellent."
There are 17 players who had previously collected three points in an NHL outdoor game, with the most recent being Tyler Toffoli (three goals) in the 2020 Stadium Series with Los Angeles.
FIVE AVS RETURN TO LINEUP
Forwards Matt Calvert, Tyson Jost and Gabriel Landeskog and defensemen Samuel Girard and Cale Makar all returned to the lineup for the outdoor matchup.
Calvert had missed seven games with an upper-body injury while Makar had been out for the past two contests with his own upper-body injury. Girard, Jost and Landeskog all played their first games since being added to the NHL's COVID list during Colorado's eight-day layoff from Feb. 3-10.
"Those guys coming back in off that break, they've only been on the ice a couple times with our team and after the 14-day mark," Bednar said postgame. "I thought all those guys came in and did a nice job… Obviously adding all of those veteran guys back in our lineup certainly helps ,and Gabe is a big part of that group coming back here tonight. They played well for as much time off as they've had."
GIRARD TALLIES OUTDOORS, AGAIN
It was unknown entering the day if Samuel Girard was going to be able to play in the Colorado Avalanche's 2021 NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe game against the Vegas Golden Knights, but he did and he made his presence known early.
Video: VGK@COL: Girard rips wrist shot home to open scoring
Skating in his first outing since Feb. 2, Girard tallied the first goal of the game 2:58 into the contest to notch his second marker of the season and second career tally in an NHL outdoor game. He scored Colorado's lone goal in last season's Stadium Series mattchup against the Los Angeles Kings at Air Force.
Prior to missing the previous two games with a COVID protocol-related absence, he had played in 231 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak by an Avalanche defenseman. He came out of the NHL's protocol on Friday and played 20:48 in Saturday's outing.
Colorado has scored the first goal of the game in 11 of its 14 contests, and the team that scores first in the NHL's outdoor games improved to 17-9-5 overall.
The Avs were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. Colorado hasn't allowed a power-play goal in 10 of its 14 contests this season and is 43-for-48 (89.6 percent) overall this season, the top-ranked PK in the league.
The contest was played at 6,224 feet above sea level, the second-highest for an NHL regular-season outdoor game behind the 2020 Stadium Series between the Avalanche and Kings at Falcon Stadium (6,621 feet). Colorado also competed in the outdoor game with the third-highest such figure (5,200 feet; 2016 Stadium Series at Coors Field).
Nathan MacKinnon participated in the One Million Dollar Hole-in-One Challenge presented by Bridgestone. He attempted to relive a memorable moment from the same spot Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic had a hole-in-one at the 2011 American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. He missed the shot, but the NHL is still donating $25,000 to the Mile High Mites Learn to Play program.
Mikko Rantanen recorded two points (both assists) and has tallied a point in each of the outdoor games he has appeared in (also an assist at the 2020 Stadium Series game at Air Force).
Devon Toews scored his first game-winning goal of the season and the fourth of his career.
The Avalanche debuted its Reverse Retro jersey in the contest. The sweater is based on the uniform the organization wore during its time in Quebec City as the Nordiques. The Avs will wear it for the first time at Ball Arena on Monday in the team's Retro Night.