As much resilience as the Avalanche’s first third of the season demanded, there remained one mountain they had not climbed entering the final game before Christmas.
They found a way to climb it for the signature win of the season so far.
The Avs earned a point after trailing by multiple goals for the first time this year. Sam Girard scored his second goal of the season to beat his former team in overtime, and Colorado escaped Nashville with a thrilling 3-2 triumph Friday.
Sam Girard wishes Avs Faithful a Happy Holidays!#GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/3xaBKOHKNW
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) December 24, 2022
The game featured 85 combined shots on goal, with Colorado leading 46-39. Half of the Avs’ first 32 games have been one-goal results. They are 9-5-2 in those goals. They are 8-2-1 against Central Division opponents.
Now the NHL is idle for the next three days. The Avalanche (19-11-2) enter the holiday break in third place in the Central, leapfrogging Minnesota and ascending from a wild card spot. Still, the defending champs hope to be better positioned when it’s all said and done. Injuries have been the story of the season, and this win was a reminder: Valeri Nichushkin (lower body) and Martin Kaut (upper body) both went to the dressing room and didn’t return.
It was Nichushkin’s eighth game back from a month-long absence. He hasn’t scored since his return. With Nathan MacKinnon, Bo Byram, Gabriel Landeskog and Josh Manson all out, the Avalanche cannot afford to lose him again.
The depleted Avs found ways to win in December — they have won six of the last seven — even if their current methods don’t feel sustainable. Mikko Rantanen scored his 23rd goal in Nashville to enter the break ranked fifth in the league. Nobody else on the roster has reached double-digit goals. At the 32-game mark, Rantanen has scored 24.7% of the team’s goals.
In the last five games entering the break, Colorado outshot its opponents a combined 199-132. During those five games, Rantanen’s shooting percentage was 9.8% (4-for-41). The rest of the team’s shooting percentage was 3.8% (6-for-158).
The Avs owe their recent success to airtight defense, which has restricted scoring chances enough to patch their lack of finishing. Opponents averaged only 23 shots on goal per game in the last four before Nashville, but the Predators fired 15 at Alexandar Georgiev by the end of the first period Friday.
Defensive breakdowns suddenly reappeared. After Ryan Johansen’s power play rebound gave Nashville the lead, Georgiev had to deny a breakaway to save Colorado from an early 2-0 deficit. Jared Bednar was riding the hot hand into the holiday break by starting Georgiev a fifth consecutive game: The netminder enters the break with a .950 save percentage (152 of 160) in his last six starts after 37 saves Friday.
He just needed his Avalanche skaters to take the pressure off him a bit. Seven minutes into the second period, the Predators held a 22-11 advantage in shots and a 2-0 lead, thanks to Matt Duchene’s second goal in as many games against his former team.
Then a flip switched.
It’s becoming a recent trend: overwhelming outbursts after lethargic starts. This time was a stretch of 15 consecutive shots belonging to the Avalanche, culminating in Rantanen’s goal to cut the deficit in half. The Avs went into second intermission on an 18-2 surge.
Predators goalie Juuse Saros was sharp all night, but J.T. Compher deflected in an Artturi Lehkonen shot with 4:55 remaining to tie it. Nashville nearly scored via 2-on-1 moments later, but a shot bulleted past Georgiev, off the inside of the post and harmlessly across the goal line. It was the closest Nashville came to scoring before Girard ended the game from Evan Rodrigues in Colorado’s own 2-on-1.