The best player in the second-round series between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues got knocked out early in the first period. The Blues couldn’t recover.
Jordan Binnington had to leave the ice following a collision in the crease just 6:45 into the game, and was replaced by Ville Husso. Colorado scored the next three goals in response, pushing the Avalanche to a 5-2 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in the series.
Here are three takeaways from Colorado’s victory in Game 3.
Lehkonen Comes Through
At the beginning of March, Artturi Lehkonen was playing for a team that was hoping to get the first pick in the NHL Draft. He was one of six players brought to the Avalanche on trade deadline day, and he made team president Joe Sakic look pretty smart on Saturday. Lehkonen scored two goals – including what proved to be the game-winner – in helping the Avs to the win.
Lehkonen came to Colorado from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round pick and Justin Barron. It didn’t take him long to start contributing once he got to the Avs, as he scored six goals and nine points in his 16 games with Colorado. He scored two goals in the first-round series against the Nashville Predators and had two goals in his final three regular-season games.
He played a total of 74 games this season between Colorado and Montreal, and Lehkonen was able to cobble together a career year. His 19 goals were a career-best – one higher than the 18 he scored in his rookie season – and his 38 points were also a career-high. He also added an empty-netter on Saturday. It was the first two-goal playoff game of his career.
O’Connor Makes Most of Opportunity
Logan O’Connor played in only three of Colorado’s first-round games against the Nashville Predators, and he was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the second round against the Blues. He hadn’t registered a point, and played more than 10 minutes just once. O’Connor erased all of those bad vibes on Saturday, scoring Colorado’s first goal of the contest.
Adding O’Connor to the lineup was the only change Avs coach Jared Bednar made entering Game 3, swapping him in for Nico Sturm. O’Connor has been dangerous as a depth scorer and on the penalty kill because of his speed, and that’s what led to his goal on Saturday. Right after a penalty by teammate Josh Manson expired, Manson corralled a puck at the blue line, and O’Connor snagged it and quickly beat Husso to tie up the score at 1-1.
Entering the postseason, O’Connor had played in only seven playoff games, recording just a single point. He is coming off his best season of his four-year NHL career, having scored eight goals and 16 assists – both career highs – across 81 games in Colorado’s bottom six. O’Connor had just 43 games played before the 2021-22 campaign and had scored just seven career points.
Depth Scoring Steps Up
St. Louis has done a wonderful job of shutting down Colorado’s high-powered top line, but the depth of the Avalanche has picked up the slack. Along with Lehkonen’s pair of goals, the second line came through with the go-ahead goal from Nazem Kadri midway through the second period. The goal was a gritty play fans are used to from Kadri, deflecting a shot from the point by Cale Makar into the Blues net.
Bednar started Gabriel Landeskog on the second line on Saturday, just like he had during the entire postseason. Before the end of the first period, Landeskog was up on the top line, making the familiar matchup of Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. The trio actually scored, but it was a gift on a half-empty net situation where Husso was caught in no man’s land.
With the top line put back together, the second line is comprised of Kadri, Lehkonen, and Valeri Nichushkin. Those three have now combined for nine goals in the playoffs. One of those three has scored a goal in five of Colorado’s seven postseason games. The Avalanche look to take control of the series in Game 4, which is slated for Monday in St. Louis.
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.