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Defensemen Step Up in Midst of Injuries

Patrik Nemeth and Conor Timmins contributed offensively against the Sharkks

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

The Colorado Avalanche had some important minutes that needed to be filled with defensemen Samuel Girard and Ryan Graves out with injuries, and fellow rear guards Patrik Nemeth and Conor Timmins took advantage of the opportunity.

Nemeth scored his first goal with the Avs this year and Timmins added two assists for his first career multi-point game as Colorado defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Saturday night at Ball Arena.

Both players logged top-four minutes as a defensive pairing, as Nemeth had the third-most ice time on the team at 22:52, his highest amount since joining Colorado in a trade on April 9. Timmins skated 17:45 and had a career-high, plus-3 rating after playing 16:51 on Friday night, which were his most minutes in the NHL since Feb. 16.

"I think I've just been more sure of myself on the ice," Timmins said. "I've been simplifying my game, trying to make exits and I think that has kind of led to my offense and everything has stemmed from that."

Timmins helped create the Avs' first goal to tie the outing at 1-1, as he threw the puck toward the crease and Nathan MacKinnon redirected it into the cage with 6:52 remaining in the second period.

"Makes an amazing play on the 4-on-4 goal to the backdoor to MacK. He has that type of ability," said head coach Jared Bednar of Timmins. "We haven't seen a lot of flashes of it through his first few call-ups, but I think he looks like a more confident player. He's been around us enough, he knows that we need him to play with these guys that we have out injured and he's hungry to do that. Good for him in making the most of the opportunity. We're going to need him to play well, especially with some of these guys that are out."

Nemeth's marker was his third of the season and came on a one-time shot at 9:05 of the third period that gave Colorado a 3-1 lead at the time. It was his first point in his second stint with the team and his 26th in 148 career contests with the Avs; he previously suited up for the squad from 2017-2019.

The Stockholm, Sweden, native also contributed four shots on goal on Saturday and added three blocks on the other side of the ice as well.

"The third period, I just thought he started stepping up his game when it mattered the most," Bednar said of Nemeth. "Comes up with a bunch of big blocks, makes some nice plays to the middle of the ice and then he gets rewarded for shooting the puck and doing the right thing. Hopefully that gives him a little bit of confidence because I thought he took a step in the third for us."

The Avalanche will likely be without Girard and Graves for the next several games as both players were unable to finish Friday's contest versus the Sharks. Graves suffered an upper-body ailment early in that first period while Girard left in the third frame following a collision along the end wall.

"Girard is going to be out two weeks, give or take, and we'll just see how that goes for him, lower body," Bednar said. "Graves, I still don't have a timeline. I'm considering him day-to-day at this point, but that has the possibility to change for the worst, just depending on how the next few days go."

Kyle Burroughs and Dan Renouf entered the lineup in their spots after being called up from the taxi squad prior to the contest. They formed the team's third defensive unit, with Burroughs seeing 15 shifts and Renouf logging 17.

Devon Toews and Cale Makar made up Colorado's top D-pairing, with Toews skating a game-high 28:27 and Makar second with 23:53 of ice time.

While the onus might fall on the team's present D-corps to continue picking up the slack, Nemeth said defensemen and forwards alike will need to contribute in the Avs' zone. Colorado is at its best when it's getting defensive assistance throughout its lineup, as was the case with the club holding San Jose to 25 shots, including a total of four in the middle stanza.

"We're defending as a five-man unit out there, and I think we did a good job of that," Nemeth said. "I think our forwards reloaded well and helped us in the D-zone so we could get out of our zone. It's a five-man unit, and I think we have to have that mentality here down the stretch and moving forward, especially going into playoffs."

BELLEMARE REACHES HALF-CENTURY MARK

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was a late-arrival to the NHL, not appearing in his first game until he was 29 years old with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014-15.

Now 36, Bellemare skated in his 500th contest in the league on Saturday and joined Antoine Roussel (554) as the only French players in NHL history to do so. The Le Blanc-Mensil, France native is the third player born in the country to play in 500 games as Paul MacLean (719) was born in Grostenquin, France, but is Canadian.

"Doesn't surprise me that he hit 500 because, even coming to the league as late as he did, he just takes care of himself off the ice," said head coach Jared Bednar. "Does all the right things with his training, his recovery work, diet, all of it. Working on days off, he's always out on the ice, helping with goalies. It's just the type of guy he is, so congrats to him."

Since breaking into the league with the Flyers, Bellemare has played at least 72 games in every full season and appeared in 69-of-70 contests in his first year with the Avalanche in 2019-20 before the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the campaign. This season, Bellemare has skated in 46-of-49 outings, only missing three due to injury.

Bellemare has eight points this year (seven goals, one assist) after producing personal bests in goals (nine), assists (13) and points (22) with the Avs last season. He has 95 career points (45 goals, 50 assists) in the NHL.

"True professional, extremely unselfish guy, everything is team first--you talk to him, you get that impression right away," Bednar said. "It's the type of leader and guy he is."

HOME COOKING

The victory was the Avalanche's seventh in a row at home this season, tying its season high that was previously set March 10-25. The team's current run began on March 29, two days after an overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Colorado is now 14-0-1 in the past 15 outings at Ball Arena, which is tied for the second-longest home point streak in franchise history. The Nordiques finished their time in Quebec City with a 15-game streak as well from March 1 to May 3, 1995, while the record of 17 games was set by the Avalanche when the club closed out the 2002-03 campaign with its run from Jan. 20 to April 6, 2003.

"I think our guys are excited to play in front of our fans again and just looking forward to the day we can get more (fans in the building)," Bednar said. "I'm hoping that's coming soon. If we can add some to the playoffs, it would be great. It feels a lot more full than it actually is with the energy our fans are bringing every night."

The Avalanche has two more home games this season as it hosts the Los Angeles Kings in a back-to-back on May 12-13 in rescheduled contests from last month.

Colorado is tied for the most home wins in the NHL (20) and is second with 43 points, trailing only the New York Islanders (43).

MORE POSTGAME NOTES

The Avalanche's .808 points percentage at home is currently its best since moving to Denver and the second-best in franchise history. The 1994-95 Quebec Nordiques finished 19-1-4 (.875) at home.

The Avs completed their eighth back-to-back set of the season and are 5-0-3 in the second contest of consecutive-night sets in 2020-21. Colorado has swept three straight back-to-backs, matching the franchise record.

Mikko Rantanen scored his seventh game-winning goal of the season, second on the team (Gabriel Landeskog, eighth) and tied for fifth in the NHLL. Rantanen has 28 goals, and his plus-27 rating is first among forwards. He has multiple points in each of the last four games he has appeared in.

Nathan MacKinnon tallied two points for his 19th multi-point goal of the season. He notched his 20th goal of the year, reaching the 20-goal mark for the sixth time in his career and for the fourth-straight campaign.

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