ANAHEIM, Calif.--The Colorado Avalanche showed faith in Pavel Francouz when the team signed him as a free agent in spring 2018, and the goaltender has reciprocated that trust.
Hours after inking a two-year contract extension with the Avalanche on Friday afternoon, Francouz stopped all 26 shots he faced at Honda Center to lead the squad in a 1-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks and earn his first career NHL shutout.
"It's been an awesome day. Maybe one of the best ones of my life," Francouz said. "One to remember, but everything worked out well. I'm really happy, but this day is almost over and we're already focusing on tomorrow."
Francouz entered Friday ranked in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage in the NHL and could have tested the market in the summer as an unrestricted free agent. The keeper instead made the easy decision in his mind and re-signed with the Avalanche.
"The negotiations weren't complicated because Colorado knew that I wanted to stay," said the netminder from Plzen, Czech Republic. "It was pretty quick honestly."
After playing the previous three years in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and three years before that in Czech Extraliga, Francouz took the leap across the Atlantic by signing a one-year deal with the Avalanche on May 2, 2018.
He appeared in two NHL games the ensuing season but spent most of this time in the American Hockey League with the Colorado Eagles, learning the nuances of how the sport is played in North America. Named to the AHL All-Star Game in 2018-19, Francouz posted a 27-17-3 record, 2.68 goals-against average and . 918 save percentage with the Eagles, and the Avalanche re-upped Francouz on another one-year deal and promoted him as the backup to the NHL club.
"Colorado was the only team that took this risk, I would say maybe," Francouz said. "They didn't know what to expect from me, and they gave me a chance in the NHL, which was huge for me. I had no thought to leave. It was quick and simple."
Video: Pavel Francouz earns first NHL shutout
Francouz said there wasn't any correlation between signing a new contract and his first NHL shutout, only saying he was focused on getting the team the win. With Colorado holding onto a 1-0 lead late in the third period and with the Ducks pressuring, it was vital for Francouz to not let in a puck.
"Honestly, I didn't think much about the shutout," Francouz said. "I thought about winning this game, and it meant keeping the shutout. It was like two for one."
Francouz had been close to posting a clean slate a few times this season, including in the Avs' last outing on Wednesday versus the New York Islanders. Colorado led 3-0 in the third period in that contest before the Islanders broke through and got on the scoreboard with 2:14 remaining.
"It's a great feeling for sure, but I have to thank the guys because they played really well in front of me today," said Francouz of finally picking up the shutout in his 27th career game. "[My teammates] blocked a lot of shots. They were desperately trying to get the shutout for me. It's big for me, and I thank them."
Video: COL@ANA: Francouz boosts Avs with first NHL shutout
It seemed fitting that Francouz's victory was the result of the play by his countryman and friend, Martin Kaut. Late in the second period, Kaut--who was playing in his second career NHL game--intercepted a pass during a Ducks clearing attempt and fed the puck over to J.T. Compher for a one-time shot that ended up as the only goal scored in the game.
The assist marked Kaut's first-ever NHL point.
"It's special for us, maybe even for our country," Kaut said of sharing a night of firsts with a Czech teammate. "We're a small country. I'm so happy for him and for me too."
Video: Martin Kaut after registering his first NHL point
As the final horn sounded and the Avs rushed to the ice to congratulate their goaltender on the achievement and victory, Kaut went over and grabbed the game puck first as a gift for Francouz.
The small gesture meant a lot.
"It's a great move from him. I wouldn't even think about it," Francouz noted. "I was just happy about [the shutout win] and celebrating with the guys, and all of a sudden he showed up with the puck."
Francouz was making his third consecutive start and was playing in his fourth straight game for the Avalanche, and he will be looked upon to continue providing solid goaltending during the stretch run. Colorado will play its final 22 games in a matter of 43 days, and Francouz is currently tasked as the starter while Philipp Grubauer recovers from a lower-body injury.
The Avs are chasing the St. Louis Blues for the top seed in the Western Conference, and Francouz is looking forward to helping the team's charge in the standings during the final weeks of the season.
There is no other NHL team he would rather do a late-season push with.
"I love it here in Colorado," Francouz said. "It's a nice place to live, and my family loves it there too. It is one of the best teams in the league, and as a goalie you want to play behind the best team possible. It's a pleasure to be here."