The Avalanche made a six-layer tank sandwich.
Six consecutive wins in which they never trailed were surrounded by losses to NHL bottom-feeders: Chicago before the beginning, and now Anaheim at the end.
The Ducks scored tying and go-ahead goals 24 seconds apart in the third period to complete a comeback from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits Thursday night, resulting in a 5-3 Avalanche loss that seemed far-fetched for most of two periods.
The Avs (26-18-3) started the game with a 9-1 and 30-14 advantage in shots, but Anaheim piled on the pressure in the final stanza. The equalizer was scored by Adam Henrique and set up by the fabulous stick-handling of Denver native Troy Terry. Colorado was then caught sleeping when Mason McTavish sniped another shot past Pavel Francouz with 9:54 remaining.
Mikko Rantanen had an opportunity to tie it at the net front, but John Gibson brushed it aside. It would have been Rantanen’s 200th career goal to also cement his third hat trick of the season. Entering Thursday’s game, he had gone two consecutive games without a point for the first time in two months. His two-goal night brought his season total to 34 and season pace to 59.3.
Instead, Anaheim’s Frank Vatrano completed his hat trick with an empty-netter to clinch the game in the final minute.
Avalanche defenseman Sam Girard scored his first goal at Ball Arena this season, converting an excellent pass across the slot from Nathan MacKinnon. It gave Colorado a 2-0 lead at the time.
What followed was an inverted version of what has happened in recent Avalanche games. When they lost seven of eight in early January, they got in a habit of digging holes then conjuring the urgency to rally late. This time, they scored first for a seventh consecutive game but replicated the type of third period they played Tuesday against Washington: caught on their heels, defending more than creating. In that game, they were outshot 15-3 in the final frame.
On a night when Cale Makar was back after missing four games (upper body), Matt Nieto also returned to the Avs — for the first time in four seasons. The brand-new trade acquisition from San Jose played on the second line with Valeri Nichushkin out (upper body). After landing Thursday morning in Denver, Nieto was whistled for Colorado’s first penalty of the game, a third-period hooking call.
The Avs killed that and another one, bringing their total to 19-for-20 during the eight-game tank sandwich. But it didn’t matter as they couldn’t convert a flurry of game-tying chances late, including a Logan O’Connor rebound — he hasn’t scored in 35 games — and a scrum in Anaheim’s crease that involved J.T. Compher fighting to get the puck across.