RALEIGH, N.C. — The backup goalie’s best save of an unforgettable night started eight hours before game time. Really, it started five days earlier.
At the morning skate before every game, Avalanche goalie coach Jussi Parkkila goes over the scouting report with the evening’s starter. That process includes reviewing the opponent’s power play tendencies. For that, Parkkila consults with fellow assistant coach Nolan Pratt.
“Pratter makes him aware of certain plays that other teams are going to run,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “So they don’t always necessarily have to work on it on the ice, but they have to be aware of it.”
Other times Parkkila will determine a certain play does need to be simulated on ice, in order for his goalie to practice the movement and technique required to make a difficult save.
Which brought Pavel Francouz to Thursday’s morning skate at PNC Arena, where he was set to start the rematch against Carolina after a 4-1 win the previous weekend. The Hurricanes had attempted a play designed to end with a pass across the crease between the two skaters positioned along the goal line. Then, ideally an easy goal at the far post.
“If you look at Carolina’s power play, they’ll drop from the goal line into the middle and they’ll move him around a little bit, so you have to be alert to it,” Bednar said. “Know it’s coming.”
Pratt and Parkkila did. It was a focal point at morning skate.
“We especially focused on this play,” Francouz said after Colorado’s 3-2 overtime win.
His first-period save against Sebastian Aho foreshadowed the career night he had in store. Francouz saved 46 shots and kept Colorado breathing until Artturi Lehkonen netted an overtime game-winner. It was the kind of game that leaves a coach acknowledging the opponent’s perspective with bewilderment: “Sometimes it goes that way where you outplay a team (and lose),” Bednar said. “Not often when it’s that badly. But we’ll take the two points and run.”
The improbable win was Bednar’s 532nd game as Avalanche head coach. It was only the 14th game during his seven-year tenure in which the Avs were outshot by 20 or more; their fourth game outshot by 25 or more; and their second outshot by 30 or more.
At 48-15, the deficit equaled the largest of the Bednar era. The game that shares that honor? Nov. 2, 2017, when the Hurricanes held a 60-27 advantage. The Avalanche won that day, too.
The franchise has played only two games with a worse shot differential since moving to Denver in 1995.
So for Francouz to lead Colorado to a win: “He was unbelievable,” Cale Makar said.
The save on Aho was the moment that best demonstrates the alchemy of such a rare performance. Bringing it all together were Pratt’s scouting, Parkkila’s insistence on workshopping the play and Francouz’s in-game reflex and knack for recognizing the moment when it arrived.
The Hurricanes were late in their power play with five minutes left in the first period. They played the puck to Aho along the goal line. He casually flicked a behind-the-back pass to wing Andrei Svechnikov, who worked it back out to the point. Aho and Seth Jarvis swapped sides of the net, manufacturing extra space between Francouz and Makar as the puck went back to Svechnikov. Then Jarvis, now in Aho’s previous location.
“They were able to slip that one under,” Bednar said. “I think Cale got a piece of it with his stick and, it slipped under to the backdoor.”
Parkkila’s main emphasis at morning skate: “That you don’t collapse,” Francouz said. “You don’t fall on your stomach. You have to control your body and just get the full body over.”
The backup goalie anticipated the last pass enough to start sliding his left blocker toward the far post as the puck was just starting to travel across the crease.
He didn’t fall on his stomach.
The blocker stuffed Aho. Francouz ensnared the puck with his glove, preventing a rebound chance. Aho slammed his glove against the glass in frustration.
“They’re throwing everything to the goalie and they’re having players on the crease trying to pick up the rebounds,” Francouz said of Carolina’s game plan. “So it’s always better if you don’t leave many pucks around the crease.”
Oddly enough, the Avs are 7-5-2 under Bednar when outshot by 20 or more. They hadn’t been outshot by 20 since Game 3 of the 2021 playoff series against Las Vegas.
Another memorable contribution to the 14-game sample size was Oct. 29, 2019, against Tampa. Colorado was outshot 46-24 but won 6-2.
It was Francouz’s second career start.
“It’s a lot of fun for a goalie if you have a fire of shots around you,” he said. “And if the pucks are hitting you.”