Nichushkin Scores Shorthanded Winner as Avalanche Top Maple Leafs

TORONTO — Valeri Nichushkin scored a shorthanded goal in the third period as the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Wednesday.

Nathan MacKinnon, with a goal and an assist, and Joonas Donskoi, into an empty net, also scored for Colorado (17-8-2). Philipp Grubauer stopped 38 shots the Avalanche, who played for the first time since Saturday.

Zach Hyman replied Toronto (13-13-4). Frederik Andersen, who started both ends of a back-to-back for the first time since January 2017, made 28 saves. The Leafs also had Mitch Marner back in the lineup after the winger missed 11 games with a high ankle sprain suffered Nov. 9.

After killing off Jake Muzzin’s four-minute penalty for high-sticking early in the third, thanks in large part to a big stop by Andersen on Donskoi, the Leafs’ first man advantage turned into a disaster.

Jason Spezza’s stick exploded on a shot and as the Toronto centre tried to keep the puck in with his feet at the blue line, he got caught up with Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly.

That allowed Nichushkin to move in all alone and bury his third goal of the season upstairs at 6:40.

Colorado Avalanche Valeri Nichushkin Nashville Predators Rocco Grimaldi
Colorado Avalanche Valeri Nichushkin tries to keep the puck from Nashville Predators center Rocco Grimaldi (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Toronto pushed as the period wore on and pressed late, but couldn’t get anything past Grubauer with Andersen on the bench before Donskoi iced it into an empty net with 79 seconds left in regulation.

The Leafs were coming off Tuesday’s embarrassing 6-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers — a performance where Toronto was in the game in the third period only to fall apart in the dying minutes.

Star centre Auston Matthews said the team “quit” with the game out of hand, leaving Andersen hung out to dry on two late goals 12 seconds apart in the final minute.

Rookie head coach Sheldon Keefe — in just his sixth game at the helm — addressed the team immediately after the final buzzer in Philadelphia, an abnormality for an NHL bench boss, especially in the wake of an emotional defeat.

Sheldon Keefe
Sheldon Keefe (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Andersen then told his coach he wanted the net against Colorado even though backup Michael Hutchinson was originally scheduled to get the call.

Meanwhile, Tuesday marked the return to Scotiabank Arena of Avalanche centre Nazem Kadri, who was traded by Toronto to Colorado on July 1 in the deal that saw defenceman Tyson Barrie and forward Alexander Kerfoot go the other way.

The seventh pick in the 2009 NHL draft, Kadri registered 161 goals and 357 points in 561 games with the Leafs. He added 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 19 playoff games, but was suspended for eight of the team’s 14 post-season outings the last two springs against the Boston Bruins, losing his cool in crucial moments and costing Toronto dearly in the process.

MacKinnon opened the scoring at 10:52 of the second period on the first power play of the night. After the Avalanche gained the zone, Mikko Rantanen snapped a cross-ice pass to MacKinnon, who had all day to pick the top corner on Andersen from the faceoff dot for his 18th.

Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Now alone in fourth in NHL scoring with 44 points, the Colorado centre has goals in five straight games.

Toronto responded just 1:50 later when Kerfoot fed a no-look pass in front for Hyman to redirect past Grubauer for his third.

Andersen had the fans at Scotiabank Arena chanting his name earlier in the period following consecutive pad saves on Nichushkin.

Rookie scoring leader Cale Makar came close to getting on the board off the rush in the first, but Andersen was there to deny the slick defenceman before Matthews had a good chance from a tight angle moments later.

Frederik Andersen Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe, who came in 4-2-0 in his six games behind the bench since replacing Mike Babcock on Nov. 20, added a wrinkle later in the period when he rolled out Matthews, Marner and William Nylander on the same line for two straight shifts at 5 on 5.


Rielly played the 500th game of his career. … Toronto winger Andreas Johnsson left the game with a leg injury after blocking a shot in the second. … The Leafs open a four-game road trip Saturday in St. Louis before heading to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. … The Avalanche visit Montreal on Thursday and Boston on Saturday. Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s been out since Oct. 26 with a lower-body injury, could return against the Canadiens. … The Leafs lost centre Nick Shore to Winnipeg on waivers, while forward Nic Petan and defenceman Martin Marincin were loaned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies — all moves to make room for Marner’s return off injured reserve.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2019.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press