BOSTON - Just as sure as the leaves turn into a gumball machine of color this time of year here in New England, the Colorado Avalanche come to Boston and beat the Bruins at TD Garden. Another early-season Avs game against the B's on their home ice? Ho hum, just put another two points on the board.
The Avalanche is 9-0-1 against the Bruins in the last 10 games at the Gah-den, after a 4-0 victory Monday afternoon. Semyon Varlamov had to be excellent again to get a win, but he didn't have to perform miracles like he did in the season-opener at Madison Square Garden. This was an Avalanche team that, while it gave up some dangerous chances at times, was the hardest-working one on the ice, the team that truly deserved the two points.
Nail Yakupov scored two third-period goals, one into a vacated net after he beat goalie Tuukka Rask in a footrace to the puck, and another with Rask off for the extra skater. Sven Andrighetto and J.T. Compher scored first-period goals as the Avs capped their three-game road trip at 2-1-0. Should Mayor Hancock start making preliminary plans for a Stanley Cup parade next June?
Not yet probably. But this is clearly a better, faster, younger team than the dumpster-fire outfit of last year.
"The guys played very well in front of me," said Varlamov, who stopped all 29 shots he saw and still has yet to allow a goal at even strength this season (as haven't the entire team). "The defense did a good job picking up some rebounds and clearing pucks. For sure, it's a good start for me. I haven't played in a long time."
Just like they have done for most of the decade-long run of excellence in Boston, the Avs got out to a fast start, seeming to catch the Bruins slumbering in a matinee affair. Andrighetto put a very stoppable shot on Rask early on, but the veteran let a rebound pop into the air off his blocker and didn't react fast enough as it hung in the air and bounced over the goal line.
Then, a few minutes later on a 2-on-1 short-handed breakout with Carl Soderberg (another excellent game after being benched in the season opener), Compher beat Rask clean on a wrister from the right circle. Unlike in the season-opener in New York, the Avs didn't blow the early two-goal lead. While they didn't play all that well in the second period, Varlamov sure did. His best save was on David Pastrnak, one where he stuck out his left pad in a virtual split and just barely kept the puck south of the red line.
Yakupov beat Rask to a loose puck along the wall in the Bruins' zone, stickhandled past Rask and fired a shot in from a tough angle to make it 3-0 at 6:07 of the third. Yak was credited with another goal with 44 seconds left when he was closest to a puck that should have gone before the Bruins dislodged the net.
All four lines did good things for the Avs, but the best overall might have been the one that didn't get on the scoresheet at even strength - the trio of Compher, Gabe Landeskog and Tyson Jost. Landeskog was outstanding defensively and on the forecheck, and really did a nice job keeping pucks deep with his positioning along the wall. Andrighetto also had a really nice game overall, particularly in the neutral zone breaking up plays with his stick.
"Guys were quicker on the puck defensively and stronger on it offensively," Jared Bednar said. "With four lines going and contributing, there were no lapses in our game. The second period, we weren't as responsible with the puck, especially in the second half of the period. They played with the puck in our end a lot more. But to bounce back in the third and get pucks deep. ... was very positive for us."
Here is Bednar's full press session after the game:
Saturday, Avs great Peter Forsberg made some comments on Swedish television that, according to one translation, essentially said he would bench and/or trade Matt Duchene if he were coach or GM of the team right now. Forsberg, whose comments may have been twisted a little with translation from Swedish to English, indicated that Duchene's presence is too much of a distraction to teammates.
Not only has Duchene not looked like he's affecting his teammates negatively on or off the ice amid constant trade rumors, he believes Forsberg's comments were overblown.
"I don't think it was meant to be anything personal," Duchene said. "He and I have a great relationship. I'm not taking it personally. I think a lot can get lost in translation. He's a guy I idolized growing up and I didn't take it as something personal. It's unfortunate how it's blown up, but I still have the same respect and admiration for him as a player and a guy."
Duchene played well in all three games on the trip, especially Monday. He was engaged defensively and was his usual slippery self with the puck. He was credited with an assist after the game on Yakupov's first goal. He poked the puck into the Bruins' zone, winning a puck battle in the process, which forced Rask way out of his net - but Yakupov beat him to it.
"Yak showed good hands, good poise and finished it off," Duchene said.
Duchene has never lost a game in regulation in Boston in his career.
"I love playing here," he said. "I don't know what it is. Even though the ice was like sandpaper tonight. Three nights of Bruno Mars (who played the Garden recently) will do it."
Asked about his team's quick start, Duchene actually sounded like he is...happy? being an Av.
"We just refocused over the summer. It stung. It was really terrible from last December on, so I think guys had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder," Duchene said. "Tonight was probably the best game that we've played, of the three. I think Varly stole Game 1, and Bernie (Jonathan Bernier) did his damnedest the next night. Tonight, even though we didn't outshoot them, we played really well in the third period. We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of guys who are experiencing this for the first time. It's fun to be an older guy who has been here for nine years now and watch the excitement. It puts you back, brings you back to that place that you were at when you were that young. It's fun. It's fun to see those guys enjoying themselves. It definitely makes you appreciate playing the game even more."
Asked about how he's doing overall right now, Duchene said: "I'm just trying to enjoy playing hockey. Every day, I try to come to the rink and do the best I can to compete. I'm really pleased with where my game's at right now. My wingers are playing really well, and I think we could even have a few more (points) than we do right now. A guy like "Kerf" is doing all the right things, and Yak got on the board twice tonight, so it's good to see him do that and I think he's going to keep that momentum going forward."
Asked if this all could still wind up in a happy ending in Colorado, Duchene stopped short of buying into a Hallmark Card scenario just yet.
"I'm not addressing that. I'm here to talk about the game, that's it," he said.
Nikita Zadorov, who played well at both ends, missed a couple of shifts after taking a puck off his right hand blocking a shot but said he was fine after the game.
Matt Nieto, Mark Barberio and Andrei Mironov were again the healthy scratches for the Avs.
Boston's Patrice Bergeron (lower body) did not play. He will make the trip with the Bruins on a road trip that starts Wednesday in Denver, but there was not great optimism around Bruins people that he would be ready to play against the Avs.