Missing two of their biggest weapons didn’t stop the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. With Gabriel Landeskog still recovering from surgery and Nathan MacKinnon sent back to Denver thanks to injury, the Avs managed to squeak out a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
It was a battle of the teams with the two best records in the Western Conference, and all three of the game’s goals were scored on the power play. Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s win:
Nichushkin Steps Up
What’s already a career year for Valeri Nichushkin just keeps getting better. The seven-year veteran scored two goals to account for all of Colorado’s offense on Tuesday. Both goals came on the power play. Nichushkin had never scored more than two power-play goals in a single season entering the 2021-22 campaign.
Trailing 1-0 midway through the second period, Nichushkin evened things up by deflecting a Cale Makar shot past Calgary netminder Jakob Markstrom. It was also Makar’s 50th assist of the season. Nichushkin gave the Avalanche their first lead midway through the third period, also on the power play. After managing just three multi-goal games in his first six NHL seasons, he now has three since Dec. 14.
While his first goal was a pinpoint deflection, his second came off a perfect pass from Mikko Rantanen. The pair of goals gave him 19 on the season, which is well past his previous career-high of 14 set in his rookie campaign back in 2013-14. The second proved to be the game-winner, giving him five on the season – which is also a career-high.
MacKinnon Missing Thanks to Injury
Just before Tuesday’s contest, the Avalanche revealed that MacKinnon had flown back to Colorado and wouldn’t play against the Flames due to an upper-body injury. The injury is believed to have come from his brawl with the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba on Sunday. The Avalance lost that game, 3-2 in overtime.
The Avalanche star was sent back to Denver for evaluation, and there is no timetable for his return. MacKinnon has missed 15 games this season due to various injuries and a stint with COVID-19. Despite all of the missed time, the three-time Hart Trophy finalist is fourth on the team with 70 points, and third with 48 assists. Avs coach Jared Bednar said his level of concern was “high” regarding the injury.
MacKinnon – who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2019-20 as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player – has only seven fighting majors in his nine-year NHL career. However, three of those have come in the last 11 months. It was his second this month as he also fought Dysin Mayo in a 2-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on March 3.
Kuemper Douses Flames
If this goaltending thing doesn’t work out, Darcy Kuemper is starting to look like he could walk right into a career as a firefighter without skipping a beat. The Colorado netminder has smothered the Flames twice in the last 15 days. In those two games, he’s faced 91 shots and has stopped 90 of them. He stopped 44 shots on Tuesday. On March 13, Kuemper recorded the fourth of his five shutouts this season, turning aside 46 shots in a 3-0 win over Calgary.
Kuemper did his best work when Colorado was a man down. He made a whopping 13 saves on the penalty kill, and none were bigger than on Calgary’s first power play of the game. After Alex Newhook was tagged for tripping with 1:03 remaining in the first, the Flames turned up the heat. Kuemper made four saves over that harrowing final minute, including two sprawling ones in a row before covering up just 18 seconds before the first intermission.
Thanks to Kuemper, the Flames went 1-for-5 on the power play in the game, and the lone power-play goal for the Flames came on a 5-on-3 advantage. Tyler Toffoli scored his 18th of the year after Makar and Nichushkin took penalties just 18 seconds apart. Colorado returns to action with a pair of home games later this week as they face the San Jose Sharks on Thursday before hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
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.