Yet, unlike in each of the five consecutive games the Avs won, the fast start wouldn’t be enough for the club to prevail. After an early Avalanche power play that couldn't find its legs, the Leafs seemed to take over, scoring two man-advantage markers of their own to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
“We didn’t have a good power play on that first one. I think it killed the momentum that we had in the first 10 minutes,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said after the match. “Then their power play, they made some great plays.
“I think after the first 10 minutes, it seemed like our focus was gone. We just had a hard time to get back in that game.”
Toronto went on to score a handful more throughout the night, taking home a 7-4 victory and stifling Colorado’s surging momentum for the second time this season. In all, the Leafs tallied three power-play goals, one empty-net tally and three even-strength markers to punctuate an evened offensive attack.
“They’ve got a lot of good offensive talent up front, and they’re going to make you pay on your turnovers,” forward Jack Skille said. “I think they got a couple lucky bounces, but they worked hard all night and you’re going to tend to get those bounces when you work hard. I would have liked to see more bounces on our end.”
On most nights, the Avs would win after putting up four tallies of their own. Even with Skille picking up two on his own, the effort just wasn’t enough.
“You never want to give up that many goals, but I think we just kind of got away from ourselves in different situations in that game and they took advantage,” Skille said.
The Avalanche battled back in the match, taking a 3-3 deadlock into the start of the final frame of play. After that, Toronto scored four straight—including one just 49 seconds in—to put the contest out of reach.
“It was tough, especially the third period. You want to come out. It’s a tie game. You’re on home ice,” center John Mitchell said. "We’re in a good spot there, and you just don’t want to have them come out and score within the first minute or whatever it was of the third period. That’s tough on the team and the morale and whatnot, but we’ve still got to obviously stick with it and try and get opportunities. We did have some chances, but we just have to be a little bit hungrier in the third period.
“They scored that first goal early, and then I think we decided to try and open it up and get some more offense going. When you do that, you’re vulnerable to getting odd-man rushes and good scoring chances for them too. I think that’s what happened to us.”
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog was in agreement about his club’s shortcomings in the third stanza, an area in which the Avalanche had excelled recently.
“Tonight, our third wasn’t the best period,” Landeskog said. “I think as of lately, our third periods have been strong, and we have been sharp and been able to win games in the third and tonight just wasn’t good enough.
“I think we gave them too many chances. I do think that we had chances to make it a one-goal game again and to tie the game up, but [Toronto goalie Jonathan] Bernier made some big stops when he needed to and that was it.”
For whatever reason, the Maple Leafs have the Avalanche’s number when it comes to the man advantage. The Canadian club has now scored on seven of eight extra-man chances.
“I don’t think there’s any certain recipe for what they do and what we don’t do,” Mitchell said. “They have our number. There’s no other way to put it really. It’s disappointing because the penalty kill has been good of late, and they come in and three power plays, three goals. It’s a tough pill to swallow. You try and figure it out, but everything they shot, it just seemed to go in on the power play.”
Sometimes athletes transcend their mere mortal abilities, becoming almost superhuman in their Herculean efforts to sway the direction of a game. Often during Colorado's five-game win streak, netminder Semyon Varlamov had been just that. But on a night where he was simply himself, a 27-year-old Russian between the pipes for his club, his team was unable to provide enough to pull out a victory.
“When you see your goalie is not having his A-game because he was tired, to me, this is an opportunity for us to play a little…tighter,” Roy said. “Give shots, fine, but not give breakaways or 2-on-1’s. We need to be better.
“It was a chance for us to do things the right way. We [had] bad hockey management on two plays and boom. These are plays we have to be better at.”
Colorado had no opportunity to field a backup goaltender once it became apparent that fatigue could be hindering Varlamov’s game as Reto Berra injured himself during pregame preparations and wasn’t in any condition to play competitively.
“I saw that Varly was tired. He had a great run. He played hard for us,” Roy said. “And Reto hurt himself playing soccer before the game. Then I would have [had] to go with [assistant general manager and former Avs goalie Craig] Billington. That was my second option. I thought I might as well stay with Varly. No disrespect to Biller, I like him a lot, but at the same time it was too bad because Varly played so well and the team had such a good run.”
The Avs enter a brief holiday hiatus with an 8-3-0 record in the month of December. It is no secret that the club has been playing superb hockey to close out 2015, and that is something the players will try and remember during their time spent away from the rink.
“I think that we’ve grown over the last couple of weeks, and that’s something that we’re going to bring with us to the Christmas break,” Landeskog said. “The last five games before this one [are] definitely going to build our confidence. We know that we’re a strong group in here, and we’re going to keep our heads high.”
“It’s a good opportunity to regroup now, take those four days off and be ready for a good practice on the 26th,” Roy said. “Be ready at home against Arizona. Play a good game. We need to bounce back right away.”
After the match, the head coach gave an injury update on both Berra and rear guard Nate Guenin, who left the game with a head injury in the second period and did not return.
“Berra is going to have an MRI tomorrow for his ankle,” Roy said. “Guenin probably has a concussion. It’s going to be about a week.”