Sat, 09 Dec 2023

In thick of division race, Avs can't overlook Ducks

Field Level Media
27 Mar 2023, 21:40 GMT+10

The defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche head into Monday night's action just a point behind the first-place Minnesota Wild in the Central Division and will try to complete a sweep of a road back-to-back in the game in Anaheim, Calif.

The Avalanche (43-23-6, 92 points) have one gamein hand on Minnesota (42-22-9, 93 points) and could take over first place with a win over the Ducks -- who bring in a four-game losing streak -- and a Wild home regulation loss to the Seattle Kraken on Monday.

Colorado moved into a second-place tie with the Dallas Stars (39-20-14, 92 points) on Sunday with a 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes in Tempe, Ariz.

Valeri Nichushkin scored in the seventh round of the shootout to win it for the Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen scored his 48th goal of the season and also had an assist, and Alexandar Georgiev made 27 saves and stopped all seven shootout tries as Colorado won despite blowing 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the third period.

"I think we outplayed them the first two periods," Rantanen said. "Obviously, they kept pushing. They were playing pretty good hockey in the third, and we were kind of ... I don't know if we were tired or what, but it looked like it a little bit. Kind of slow on the loose pucks, and they were getting every puck (and) a lot of O-zone time. But just found a way (to win). That's the most important thing. And the two points."

Next up is an Anaheim team that is in the running to earn the top pick in the NHL draft through the lottery, which could give the Ducks (23-40-10, 56 points) a chance to select touted center Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.

Colorado lost the first game of the season series with the Ducks 5-3 in Denver on Jan. 26, and they will meet again on April 9. With games against Minnesota and Dallas on deck, the Avalanche can't afford a letdown against a Ducks team that has allowed a league-high 297 goals.

"We've just got to defend, check hard like we did the first two (periods) today," Rantanen said after Sunday's game. "Just defend because these teams, they're out of the playoffs, they want to play offense and have an easy game. So we've got to make it tough on them and make them get through five guys all night."

Frank Vatrano had a hat trick in the first meeting between the two teams, including an empty-netter with 50 seconds left to seal it.

Anaheim, just 12-21-3 at home, comes in off a sloppy 6-3 loss to St. Louis on Saturday. The Blues bolted to a 5-2 lead early in the second period and cruised to the win.

"For whatever reason, we wanted to get in a track meet," Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins said. "We're just not built to outscore our mistakes."

Vatrano missed the game to be with his wife, Rebecca, for the birth of their first child. Two-time All-Star forward Troy Terry, who is second on the team in goals (21) and points (56) and had a goal and an assist, missed the third period for undisclosed reasons.

One bright spot for Anaheim was the play of 21-year-old rookie forward Nikita Nesterenko, who scored his first NHL goal in just his third career game.

"He'll never forget that one," Eakins said of Nesterenko, who was acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline as part of a deal for defenseman John Klingberg. "I think he skates very well. He's been fairly responsible. We certainly weren't going to just put him up there. I know it's only been a couple of games, but I think he's earned it."

--Field Level Media

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