Forward Taylor Hall was a late scratch for what the Devils called precautionary reasons. Hall, who leads New Jersey with 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 30 games, can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2020, and is a potential trade target.
Devils coach Alain Nasreddine said he was told by management during warmups that Hall wouldn't play.
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"The guys reacted well," Nasreddine said. "I told them we got a job to do, got to go out and perform, there's two points on the line, and that's where our focus should be. I thought the guys came out ready to play.
"It's big news, I'm not going to lie. It's big news when one of the top players in the League is not dressing for your team."
Nasreddine said he didn't know if Hall would play Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes.
"I would have to talk to management," he said. "Right now, I have no answer on that question."
Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and an assist, and Valeri Nichushkin and Gabriel Landeskog scored for the Avalanche (21-8-3), who are 8-0-1 in their past nine games.
Video: NJD@COL: Francouz stretches to deny Hughes
"It was one of those nights when the puck is just hitting you and you can enjoy the time," said Francouz, who is 7-0-1 in his past 10 games. "My teammates played pretty well in front of me, so that helped a lot."
Louis Domingue allowed two goals on 17 shots before he sustained a lower-body injury and was replaced at 11:15 of the second period by Mackenzie Blackwood, who made 19 saves for the Devils (9-17-5).
New Jersey is 0-6-1 in its past seven games, including 0-4-1 since Nasreddine was named coach after John Hynes was fired Dec. 3.
"The effort was there," Nasreddine said. "You can't complain about the effort tonight, by everyone in the lineup. Not the end result, want to win, but the way we played is the way we need to play every night."
The Avalanche took a 1-0 lead at 11:37 of the first period on a power-play goal by Landeskog. MacKinnon faked a shot in the left face-off circle and passed to Landeskog at the near hash marks for a one-timer.
It was Landeskog's third goal in five games since returning from a lower-body injury.
Nichushkin made it 2-0 at 7:56 of the second period. He received a pass from Mark Barberio, skated into the Devils zone, and shot high slot by Domingue's right shoulder.
Video: NJD@COL: Nichushkin rips puck into the twine
It was Nichushkin's sixth goal in 10 games after he had none in his previous 91 NHL games.
"He's going out and playing some great hockey for the team," Barberio said. "He's such a big presence and he's got a lot of speed. He's strong down low and he's got all the tools."
The Devils closed to 2-1 at 15:48 of the third period when Mirco Mueller's shot from the left circle went in off defenseman Samuel Girard's stick.
Video: NJD@COL: Mueller scores off deflection from defender
"I thought we were skating well, we were playing a lot more north hockey and managing the puck," New Jersey captain Andy Greene said. "It seems like when we do those types of things, when we use our speed, when we play a little bit smarter game … we didn't get the result we wanted, but it's for sure a better recipe to play."
MacKinnon scored into an empty net with 32 seconds left for the 3-1 final.
They said it
"It's a tough one tonight. Same result, but if you look at the game, I think we deserve better. We were right there. I think we had like 10 minutes where we were not dialed in. But I think the rest of the game we could play with them, and that shows us that we don't have to hide." -- Devils forward Nico Hischier
"I don't know how well all of our fans know him, but this kid is the salt of the earth. He's an extremely humble guy, unbelievable person, unselfish. He's as good a teammate as you can ask for, and to see him perform the way he's performing, I just think it's fantastic. He's battled a long time to get here, and now to be able to make the most of his opportunity, I love seeing it." -- Avalanche coach Jared Bednar on 29-year-old rookie goalie Pavel Francouz
Need to know
Jesper Bratt took Hall's place on the Devils' top line with Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. He played 15:49 and had three shots on goal. ... Hischier played 20:19, had two shots on goal and lost 10 of 15 face-offs after missing the previous three games with an illness. ... Michael McLeod drew into the lineup when Hall was scratched and had two hits in 7:45. ... MacKinnon has 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in the past 13 games.
Devils: At the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; FS-A PLUS, MSG+, NHL.TV)
Avalanche: At the St. Louis Blues on Monday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, FS-MW, ALT, NHL.TV)
Video: Francouz leads Avalanche to 3-1 win vs. Devils