Facing three of the top teams in the NHL in just a matter of days, the Colorado Avalanche came into tonight's contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins feeling pretty good about themselves after beating the Florida Panthers 7-3 over the weekend. Taking on the defending champions in their own barn is a different animal entirely, however, and the Avalanche faced the music with great aplomb as they won 2-1.
The Avs survived an early onslaught from the Pens in the beginning of the third period, giving up eight shots on goal in the first ten minutes and watching Sidney Crosby and pals put the screws to the Avalanche defense. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, whose last outing was the nightmare against Dallas when he gave up four goals on nine shots, stood strong and kept his club in it.
Once the Avalanche were able to corral the puck and cleanly leave the zone, they were able to get into the offensive zone and create some problems for the Penguins and defenseman Mark Barberio got the puck up high and fired a shot that deflected off a Penguins player and past Pens netminder Tristan Jarry for the game's first goal that would actually stand. Just moments after a Pittsburgh blitzkrieg of shots, the Avalanche were up 1-0 at 6:17 of the third period.
With Jarry pulled for the sixth attacker, the Penguins continued to lean on the Avalanche but Bernier stood tall and Blake Comeau found paydirt on the other end for an empty-net goal, giving the Avalanche a two-goal lead.
The Avs still had to finish off the Cup champs and they proved resilient as expected when Phil Kessel blasted a one-timer past Bernier with just under 13 seconds remaining to spoil Bernier's shutout bid. Bernier finished the night with 39 saves on 40 shots, the kind of bounce-back performance the club needed from him.
It was a slow start to the contest as the Avs and Penguins skated to a scoreless tie through two periods but the game was not without some controversy along the way. In his continued quest for world domination, Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon scored yet another highlight reel goal in which he embarrassed a poor defenseman, this time Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, and beat Jarry five-hole for the game's opening goal.
The Penguins were quick to challenge the play for offside as defenseman Erik Johnson appeared to enter the zone ahead of MacKinnon's zone entry and after a short review the Avalanche predictably ended up on the wrong end of yet another review and the goal was taken off the board, bringing the game back to scoreless going into the first intermission despite Pittsburgh outshooting Colorado 13-6.
Was the offside call ultimately correct? It certainly appeared the NHL got this one right as the puck never clearly entered the offensive zone before being poked backward a bit by Letang and by the time the puck was without a doubt across the blue line, Johnson had long entered the zone. Below is the play in its entirety, courtesy of Nathan Rudolph (@AvalancheReview):
The second period saw the Avalanche find their footing a bit more evenly with Pittsburgh. The teams traded power-play chances with Colorado having a four-second five-on-three opportunity but MacKinnon was called for Slashing to negate the advantage. The shots ended up 11-11 in the second period and the Penguins carried a 21-17 advantage into the third.
The Avalanche, now 2-1 on their four-game road trip, head to the nation's capital to take on the Washington Capitals tomorrow night. Both teams will be tired and traveling as the Caps lost to the New York Islanders tonight in Brooklyn.