The talk around the Western Conference Final was all about offense. The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers didn’t disappoint. The teams combined for 14 goals and used four goaltenders as the Avs held on for an 8-6 victory in Game 1.
Here are four takeaways from Colorado’s win in the series opener:
Makar Shines in Series Opener
In a furious first period, Cale Makar scored a late goal that looked like it shouldn’t have been. In a bang-bang play along the blue line, Valeri Nichushkin looked offside as Makar brought the puck into the zone. Makar scored moments later, giving the Avs a 3-2 lead with just 13 seconds left in the first period. The star defenseman finished with a goal and two assists in the victory.
The call on Makar’s goal was massive, and not without controversy. Edmonton had just tied the game up at two with 22 seconds left in the period. His goal came nine seconds later. It was initially called a good goal on the ice, and the Oilers challenged. On review, it was clear that Nichushkin hadn’t gotten back to a legal onside position when the puck crossed the blue line. However, the play was ruled a delayed offside, since the puck wasn’t on Makar’s stick until a moment after Nichushkin had cleared the zone.
Losing the challenge gave the Avalanche the game’s first power play. It resulted in a goal by Nazem Kadri just 32 seconds into the second, pushing the Avalanche’s lead to 4-2, and they led the rest of the way. Ryan McLeod was able to trim the lead to 4-3 a couple of minutes after Kadri’s goal, but Colorado scored the next two in the period to knock out Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith and essentially put the game away. It was Makar’s fourth multi-point game of the playoffs, but first since the opening round.
Kuemper Goes Down, Francouz Hangs On
With all of the talk around the offense in this series, the goaltending was under increased scrutiny. Neither starting goaltender finished the game, as both left in the second period – but under different circumstances. Edmonton’s Smith was yanked after Colorado’s sixth goal, but Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper left due to an upper-body injury.
Pavel Francouz came in for the Avs in relief, which made everybody in Ball Arena pretty nervous. The Oilers came roaring back, behind a Connor McDavid goal late in the second period, and two more goals in the third. Francouz wound up stopping 18 shots in the game but gave up the final three goals.
For his career, Kuemper has been very good against the Oilers. He’s gone 10-2-4 with a tidy 2.20 goals-against average (GAA) and .926 save percentage (SV%). Tuesday’s game was Francouz’s first appearance against the Oilers in his career, but it was his third appearance in these playoffs. He won the last two games of the series against Nashville when Kuemper was forced to leave with an eye injury after getting poked by Ryan Johansen’s stick. For his career, Francouz is 4-4 with a .894 SV% in eight postseason games.
Compher Keeps Sizzling
Before Game 6 of Colorado’s second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, J.T. Compher had just two points in the postseason and was scoreless in the second round. Two games later, and he’s got four goals. He scored two in that series-clinching game against St. Louis and added two more in Tuesday’s Game 1 against the Oilers.
Compher got the scoring started for the Avalanche, making the game 1-1 just 36 seconds after Evander Kane had opened the scoring for Edmonton. The equalizer came off of a great feed from Alex Newhook. The goal kicked off a three-goal period for the Avalanche, who also got the go-ahead goal from Nathan MacKinnon, followed by Makar’s late goal, which was his fourth of the postseason.
Compher had only two goals in 12 career games against the Oilers. However, he did score a pair of goals in Colorado’s five-game upset of the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2019 Playoffs. The Calgary goaltender in that series was Smith, Tuesday’s Game 1 starter for the Oilers. It was Compher’s second goal that led to Smith being pulled.
Rantanen Shakes Slump
Mikko Rantanen was having so much trouble scoring goals this postseason, that Avalanche coach Jared Bednar decided to literally flip the script. The standout forward was moved from his usual right wing post over to the left side and dropped to the second line alongside Kadri and Artturi Lehkonen. The result was Rantanen’s second goal of the playoffs – and the first that wasn’t an empty-netter.
The goal was a much-needed boost for Rantanen, who had been contributing throughout the playoffs despite the lack of goals. Entering Tuesday’s game, he had 11 points behind 10 assists and the lone empty-netter. That tied Rantanen for the team lead in playoff assists with Makar and tied him for third on the team in points with Gabriel Landeskog.
Rantanen led the Avalanche in goals (36) and points (92) this season, and they need him to score goals. Tuesday’s game was a great sign moving forward in what clearly looks to be an offensive series. He had five goals in Colorado’s 10 playoff games a year ago, and that’s the production the Avs need to have from him going forward. Game 2 is slated for Thursday in Denver.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.