So when the Tampa Bay Lightning took a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game on Saturday night, the visiting Avalanche did what it does best: patiently went to work.
It seemed like the ice was tilted Tampa’s way early—the Bolts held a 15-5 shot differential after the first 20 minutes—but Colorado was keen to even the score, and did so quickly in the middle stanza.
The first shift of the second period saw the Avs come out like gangbusters, with Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O'Reilly dominating possession down low in the Lightning zone. After multiple shots, MacKinnon and O’Reilly executed a textbook give and go that resulted in the equalizer.
O’Reilly fed MacKinnon down off the near post before cutting across the top of the crease, where he caught the return pass and roofed it up and into the netting behind goaltender Ben Bishop just 51 seconds into the frame.
“There’s so many things that guy does well. When I get the puck, I’m always looking for him. He’s always in an area ready to beat a guy,” O’Reilly said of his linemate. “He’s so intelligent away from the puck, and then when he does get it, he’s just as fast with it than without it. He just creates plays. His vision is unbelievable. It’s definitely nice to play with.”
The surge, an impressive uptick in the Avs’ energy, was something that the Avalanche was looking for after a slow start, and dictating the pace was part of the plan.
“We wanted to make sure we’re smart at the blue lines, getting the puck in on these ‘D’ and getting our forecheck going,” said O’Reilly. “Once we establish that, that’s when the excitement builds for us and we can get moving our feet and get puck possession. When it comes from that and you get shots on net, sparks go through every line there. It’s definitely something we have to maintain.”
Colorado’s early jolt was just the beginning, as the visitors went on to finish the second period with a 20-9 shot differential—something that carried over into the final 20 minutes as well.
All lines were firing on all cylinders, from top to bottom; the Avs were locked in. The line of Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay combined for nine shots and a few quality scoring chances.
“I think we’ve got a bit of everything,” Duchene said of his line. “Iggy’s a really great shooter. He’s kind of North-South. Tangs is a really good disher. He’s kind of East and West, and I’m kind of halfway in between there. So we have a good balance of a little bit of everything there.”
The O’Reilly, MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog line was the difference maker on the night, though. O’Reilly finished with a goal and four shots on net. Landeskog managed one shot, two hits and an assist, and MacKinnon ended with six shots, two hits, the game-tying tally and a helper.
“[MacKinnon] was outstanding. That line was outstanding,” said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. “Landeskog played a strong game as well, and the same thing for O’Reilly. That was a nice goal they scored, and I thought they had a few good looks.”
MacKinnon came up big for the Avs at the end of the night, tying the match 2-2 with a goal at 19:53 of the third period after clubbing a puck in at the backdoor of the Bolts net. Anton Stralman had scored to give Tampa the lead earlier in the frame.
“I’m very happy with the performance of the team. We played an outstanding game. It was probably one of our best road games of the season,” said Roy. “I thought we had a solid second period. I think we had 20 shots in the second. In the third, we had plenty of chances. I thought we deserved to be rewarded with that goal at the end.
“Even the first wasn’t that bad. They had 15 shots in the first. They had six or seven from their power play. Then it was about 8-5. They had a good pace. They were skating well. They were moving well. I thought in the second we were more physical. We were finishing our checks, and [Erik Johnson] had a few good ones… that slowed them down. And I thought we took it from there.”
Overtime was a back-and-forth affair that saw Colorado again dominate the shot count, but the contest was settled in the shootout with Tampa winning 3-2.
“I know one thing, tonight we thought we deserved to win, and we just came up one point short. But I thought it was entertaining,” said Roy. “If you’re looking at the score, a 3-2 score, it certainly [doesn’t] reflect the game it was. It was a lot more open than a 3-2 game.
“Unfortunately for us, we had some good chances in overtime but just could not get the right shot on net.”
ROAD TRIP SUCCESS
The Colorado Avalanche is on the tail end of a five-game road trip, playing four games against the Eastern Conference before finishing up at the St. Louis Blues. The Avs have collected four of a possible eight points thus far, with the most important game being Monday in Missouri.
“I’m very happy with the road trip. Obviously, not easy games,” said Roy. “We lost 2-1 in [Washington]. We had a solid third [period]. Remember [Calvin] Pickard did a really good job against Carolina to allow us to get a point. A big win in Florida, and then tonight I thought it was one of our better games on the road.”
As of the end of the game, the Avalanche sits just two points behind the Los Angeles Kings for eight place and a wild card spot for the playoffs. There is still plenty of hockey remaining, and Colorado (46) is among three teams that have played the most games in the Western Conference to date.
This makes Monday’s match against the third-place Blues even more crucial.
Saturday night served as a reunion of sorts as former teammates turned foes squared off for the first time at the NHL level.
Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon and Tampa Bay rookie Jonathan Drouin played on a line together with the Halifax Mooseheads, winning the Memorial Cup with the club during the 2012-13 season, before being selected just spots apart at the 2013 NHL Draft.
Both were point-scoring machines during their last season together in Halifax. MacKinnon, drafted first overall, finished the regular campaign with 32 goals and 43 assists through 44 games while Drouin, the third-overall pick, tallied 41 goals and 64 helpers in 49 matches.
MacKinnon was named Memorial Cup MVP at the end of the year while Drouin was named CHL Player of the Year.
In the first matchup between the two, MacKinnon shined just a little bit brighter than his former winger, finishing with a goal, an assist, two hits and six shots on goal through 18:44 of ice time.
Drouin played 12:17 and registered just two shots on net. This is his first season in the NHL.