Thanks to injuries and cap complications, the Vegas Golden Knights dressed only 15 skaters on Monday. It was almost enough, because a lot of the big guns for the Colorado Avalanche didn’t show up, either.
Good thing for the Avs, Philipp Grubauer was there, and he was fantastic. Grubauer stopped 36 shots and gave Colorado enough time to shake off a sluggish start for a 2-1 win in Vegas. J.T. Compher’s seventh goal of the season was the game-winner midway through the third period.
The victory kept the Avalanche’s hopes for a West Division title alive, as a loss would have sealed it for the Golden Knights. Vegas has one game remaining – on Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks. Colorado has two left to play, both against the Los Angeles Kings. Vegas currently leads the Avalanche by two points in the standings.
Here’s three takeaways from Colorado’s victory:
Grubauer Shuts Down Vegas
Despite playing with just 15 skaters, the Golden Knights delivered an offensive onslaught that Grubauer hadn’t seen all season. The Colorado netminder’s 36 saves were a season-high, and Grubauer had 28 saves through the first two periods. That’s more saves than he had to make in all but five of his previous 38 starts.
A whopping 11 Grubauer saves came when the Golden Knights were on the power play. Coming into Monday’s game, the Colorado goalie was averaging just four saves per game while playing short-handed.
Grubauer’s biggest stretch came roughly midway through the third period. Joonas Donskoi took a penalty with 12:53 to play and the game tied 1-1. The Golden Knights came out flying, but Grubauer made six saves on the penalty kill, including four in the first 40 seconds. Compher scored the game-winner just 1:26 after the penalty ended.
He was also the main reason the Avalanche weren’t trailing going into the third period. Vegas led 1-0 entering the second period after Alex Pietrangelo’s sixth goal of the season came on a rebound midway through the opening period. The Golden Knights came out firing in the second, as well, outshooting the Avalanche 15-4 in the frame. But Grubauer stuffed them all, and Andre Burakovsky’s goal at the 7:04 mark made things even with 20 minutes to play.
The importance of Grubauer’s play in the second period cannot be understated, because Colorado is a different team when trailing going into the third period. On the season, when leading or tied after two periods, the Avalanche are 32-6-3, and 15-5-2 on the road. Colorado has won just once this season when trailing after two periods on the road.
Compher Comes Through
It was the one of the biggest goals of the season for Colorado, and it came from one of the most unlikely sources.
Compher’s season has been less than memorable, but his goal midway through the third period kept the division title chances alive for the Avalanche. Compher hadn’t scored in 10 games, and had only one goal in his last 15 contests. But he was in the right place to hammer Alex Newhook’s centering pass by Vegas netminder Robin Lehner to give the Avalanche the lead for good.
Compher has just 7 goals and 15 points on the season, easily his lowest in a full season in his five-year NHL career. The only time he posted lower numbers was in his rookie campaign in 2016-17, when he played only 21 games. He has bounced around various lines all season, and has played at center and both wing spots as Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has tried everything to get him going.
The group on the ice for Monday’s pivotal goal was anything but ordinary. With Colorado on a change, Newhook assisted on the tally, and the third forward on the ice was Tyson Jost. Newhook and Jost are both centers, and Compher started the season centering Colorado’s third line. Add in defenseman Conor Timmins, who picked up the secondary assist, and Ryan Graves, and you have a mishmash of players that aren’t used to skating together.
The goal from an unlikely source was necessary, because the usual suspects for the Avalanche were almost non-existent. The top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were held in check by Vegas and were held without a point on a combined four shots on goal.
Burakovsky Keeps Rolling
With the first line struggling, Colorado needed someone to step up on Monday. Enter the guy that’s been on fire for the month of May.
Burakovsky scored the 100th goal of his career on Monday, and it was a very, very much-needed strike for the Avalanche. Trailing by a goal and getting dominated all over the ice, the Avalanche forward slid up the slot and tied the game at 1-1 at the 7:04 mark of the second period. It was his first point against the Golden Knights all season.
The milestone goal was Burakovsky’s 18th of the season and extended his point streak to six games. He hadn’t scored in more than three consecutive games before this current hot streak. Over the last six games, Burakovsky has four goals and five assists.
Burakovsky’s career-high in goals is 20, which came last season – his first with the Avalanche after playing the first five of his career with the Washington Capitals. The six-game point streak is tied for the second-longest of his career. His longest point streak came back in 2016, when he tallied a point in eight straight contests from Jan. 17 to Feb. 9.
Colorado wraps up its regular season with the pair of pivotal games against the Los Angeles Kings, which are set for Wednesday and Thursday. If Colorado wins both of its remaining games, they’ll be division champs. If Vegas wins against San Jose, and Colorado loses one game, the Golden Knights will claim the West crown. Colorado holds the tiebreaker between the two teams based on regulation victories.
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.