The Colorado Avalanche's third line doesn't always get the recognition it deserves, but it has been one of the team's most consistent and reliable trios all season.
Since being put together in mid-October, the Avs' checking line of center Carl Soderberg and wingers Blake Comeau and Matt Nieto has been trusted in key situations, including late in games when Colorado is holding onto a lead.
The group didn't have be sent out for the final minutes Sunday night to help the Avs pullout the victory as the club already had a comfortable lead against the New York Islanders. The line scored twice in a four-goal second period to help the Avs to a 6-1 victory at Pepsi Center on New Year's Eve.
"Second period, I thought the Soderberg line turned the tide for us. They were fantastic," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. "They were in on some big goals for us, getting to the net, coming up with secondary chances, banging at rebounds, real good on their puck decisions. I thought they had a lot to do on the win tonight.":
Both markers came from what the three forwards do best, going to the front of the net to create havoc and swipe at loose pucks.
"We want to hold onto the puck and play a lot in the O-zone," Soderberg said. "That is what we want to do at home, and we created a lot of chances today. We deserved those goals."
Video: Carl Soderberg on the Avs win vs. Islanders
The line combined for 10 shots, with Nieto registering five and Soderberg four.
Nieto found the back of the net first, as he took a feed from Soderberg in the low slot and sent a shot past the right pad of goaltender Jaroslav Halak at 5:25 of the middle stanza. Comeau also added an assist on the goal that made the score 2-0.
"I think we deserved that first goal. Good forecheck and good by Nietsy to win the battle in front," said Soderberg.
Nieto's sixth tally of the season opened the floodgates, so to speak, for the Avs, who added three more in the final 7:30 of the period and finished with a season-high 23 shots in the frame. The four markers in a single stanza are tied for the most by the club this season (Dec. 23 at Arizona).
Soderberg recorded his seventh goal of the campaign nearly seven minutes after Nieto's, using his 6-foot-3 frame to grab a far rebound and lift a backhand shot up and over Halak near the goal line.
Fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog tallied twice at the end of the second period to give the Avs a comfy five-goal advantage heading into the last 20 minutes.
Video: Jared Bednar after Avs defeat Islanders
For Soderberg, he now has three tallies and a helper in his last four contests and 18 points (seven goals and 10 assists) on the season--three more than he had all of last year.
"I think I've played pretty good so far and am getting the chances as well," Soderberg said.
"Last season was just a disaster as a team, personally, pretty much everything. I had good training in the summer and came fresh in camp. I think it started there."
Soderberg closes the 15-game December with nine points (four goals and five assists)--fourth most on the team for the month--while the Avs now have a 7-3-1 record in their last 11 games after starting the month 0-4-0.
FEELING THE BERNS
A two-week layoff didn't seem to affect Avs goaltender Jonathan Bernier, as he made 27 saves in his first game since Dec. 16.
Bernier only faced 15 shots through the first two periods and had a shutout going until New York's Josh Bailey scored with 7:36 remaining in regulation.
"I felt pretty good. Sometimes when you're not playing well, you're trying to do too much, but that is one thing that I've focused on tonight, being patient and let the play develop," Bernier said. "Make sure you're not too aggressive on plays, especially against that first line--they like to make that extra pass. Sometimes you have to be more patient in the crease and stay on your feet as long as possible."
Video: Bernier after the win over Islanders
In Bernier's last contest, the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning scored four goals in the second period to jump out to a lead before the Avalanche rallied back in a 6-5 loss. Sunday was a nice bounce-back performance for the Laval, Quebec, native.
"If I look back at Tampa, I felt really good in the first and they took over in the second. It was just one of those games," Bernier said. "At the end of the day, I felt really good in practice since that break and you come in and play your game."
MACK'S MEMORABLE END TO 2017
Nathan MacKinnon closed out 2017 with a bang.
The Avalanche center recorded three assists Sunday to produce the first back-to-back, three-point performance of his NHL career. He had a goal and two helpers on Friday versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was MacKinnon's sixth three-point outing of the season, the most by an Avalanche player since Paul Stastny had seven in 2009-10. The forward has also given the home crowd at Pepsi Center plenty to cheer about, as all six of his three-point games have come at home, which is the most since Stastny also had six during the 2007-08 season.
MacKinnon had a memorable final two months to the calendar year. He's totaled 38 points (13 goals and 24 assists) since Nov. 1 and is the NHL's leading scorer in that span.
Linemate Gabriel Landeskog also had another strong performance, as his two power-play goals in the second period tied him with MacKinnon for the team lead in markers with 16.
COMPHER OUT WITH INJURY
Rookie forward J.T. Compher will miss the remainder of the team's homestand with an upper-body injury, but he could return to game action as soon as the Jan. 13 contest versus the Dallas Stars following the Avs' bye week.
Compher was injured Friday in the third period of Colorado's 4-3 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he was able to finish the game and even scored the winning tally in the extra session.
"He was in some discomfort, kind of started getting worse," Bednar said of Compher on Sunday morning. "Tough guy, finished the game and ends up getting us the OT winner. The next morning he was sore, so we got him looked at. He'll be out this week."
In addition to Sunday's contest versus the New York Islanders, Compher will also miss the team's games on Tuesday versus the Winnipeg Jets, Thursday versus the Columbus Blue Jackets and Saturday versus the Minnesota Wild before the team goes into the bye week.
Compher has seven goals and six assists in 31 games this season and is averaging 17:04 of ice time per game, third most among Avalanche forwards. At the faceoff dot, Compher's 49.5-winning percentage is the highest on the team for players that have taken at least 150 draws.