MacKinnon, Avalanche edge Maple Leafs in shootout for 3rd straight win
Nathan MacKinnon had an assist and scored the only goal in the shootout for the Colorado Avalanche in a 2-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.
MacKinnon has nine points (five goals, four assists) during a six-game point streak, and 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in his past 16 games.
“He’s a world-class player,” Colorado goalie Alexandar Georgiev said. “I’m not really a forward, but he is awesome. He’s a top player in the world, and we need that kind of play from him.”
Mikko Rantanen scored, and Georgiev made 17 saves for the Avalanche (38-22-6), who have won three in a row and are 4-1-1 in their past six games. Colorado moved three points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets for third place in the Central Division. It remained four points behind the second-place Minnesota Wild, who won 8-5 at the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
“I liked the way our guys played,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “You come out on the road and you’re able to find a way to win two games in a row at the start of the (four-game) road trip (an 8-4 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday), and mostly due to the defensive effort both nights. We’ll take it all day long.”
Morgan Rielly scored, and Ilya Samsonov made 28 saves for the Maple Leafs (40-18-9), who are 2-1-1 in their past four. They are three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second in the Atlantic Division.
“Tight game, honestly,” Toronto forward Auston Matthews said. “Two good teams, not a lot of space, you saw with the shot count (29-18 Colorado). Two good teams, fast teams and not a lot of high event stuff going on.”
Rielly gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead at 3:41 of the first period when he took a cross-ice pass from Mitchell Marner at the top of the left face-off circle, skated in and shot glove side from just left of the hash marks.
Rantanen tied it 1-1 at 14:08 on a power play. He attempted to one-time a pass from Cale Makar at the right dot down low to Valeri Nichushkin, but it went off Jake McCabe in the slot and between Samsonov’s pads.
Colorado outshot Toronto 10-4 in the second period, though Georgiev came up with difficult saves at 15:06 on a one-timer from Rielly below the right hash marks in the slot and at 18:13 on Calle Jarnkrok at the top of the goal crease.
“We talked about it as a team, just playing hard defensively,” Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram said. “When we went through that stretch where we lost a few games in a row (three straight from March 1-5), we weren’t too happy with what we were doing on the defensive side of the puck, so we’ve just been trying to key in on it lately.
“They’re a really good rush team, so [it’s] just our defense having tight gaps, pinching down the walls if we can. Our forwards did a great job of tracking back over top of the puck and forechecking as well. Those are keys every night, but when you are playing some of the best players in the world, you have to make sure those details are on.”
Colorado outshot Toronto 4-0 in overtime.
“It’s just commitment and hard work and paying attention to the details,” Bednar said. “When we play with that type of commitment and dedication to the checking side of things, we’re pretty good at it.
“I feel like some nights we are as good as we want to be, and it seems like recently we’ve wanted to win these hockey games. We know they’re important. Winning the division isn’t the be-all, end-all, but certainly to have short-term goals like that and chase down the teams in front of us, it’s part of playing with a little pressure, even if it is self-induced.”
Samsonov, who backed up Matt Murray the previous two games and had not played since making 30 saves in a 4-3 win at the New Jersey Devils on March 7, stopped Nichushkin on a short-handed breakaway at 3:29 of the second.
“I thought he was locked in,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I don’t think we gave up a ton in terms of high-quality chances, a lot of stuff coming from the points and the perimeter, but anything we did give up in the slot or whatever it might have been, he was set. He looked really athletic and dynamic with some of the saves he made with his hands. I thought he was excellent.”
Hard-fought point@LGCanada | #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/8MOFHZtA2T
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 16, 2023