Opening-night on Wednesday could be the start of season-long, rip-roaring moments at Ball Arena, where the Stanley Cup-or-bust Avalanche came out buzzing before the first capacity crowd in the building since March 11, 2020.
Minus superstar center Nathan MacKinnon and head coach Jared Bednar — both in COVID protocol — the Avs played distraction-free hockey in defeating the storied Chicago Blackhawks 4-2.
Colorado got goals from Jack Johnson and Gabe Landeskog within 1:22 early in the first period and led 3-0, thanks to rookie Bo Byram, just 9:34 in. The Avs outshot the Blackhawks 16-2 in the first 11 minutes before the Blackhawks regrouped after taking their timeout.
“(A fast start) was something we talked about, just being prepared,” said Avs center Nazem Kadri, who scored the fourth goal. “A good start, it always helps make your chances increase so scoring that first goal was big and it worked out tonight.”
Chicago scored a power-play goal to trim the deficit but new Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper stopped all 13 shots he faced in the second period as Colorado upped its lead to 4-1 with a late goal from Kadri.
Landeskog, Byram and Kadri each also had an assist for multiple-point games. Landeskog left the game with 3:34 remaining after being assessed boarding and roughing minors after delivering a big hit on Kirby Dach. That led to a 6-on-4 attack on Kuemper after Blackhawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled for an extra attacker, but the last-ditch effort came up empty.
The Blackhawks got their second goal from defenseman Connor Murphy with 4:29 to play.
Kuemper finished with 34 saves in what had to be considered a terrific debut with his new club.
It was the Avs’ first game against the Central Division-rival Blackhawks since Dec. 21, 2019. The teams played in different divisions last season.
The Avs, who played before limited fans at home to finish last season, are 100% vaccinated from COVID-19, but Bednar tested positive late last week and MacKinnon had a positive test Monday. Colorado’s bench on Wednesday was run by assistant coaches Ray Bennett and Nolan Pratt and skills coach Shawn Allard. MacKinnon was replaced by Kadri on the first line and Andre Burakovsky on the No. 1 power play.
Colorado welcomed four newcomers to Wednesday’s lineup, beginning with Kuemper. Fourth-line winger Darren Helm and third-pair defensemen Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson were also in the lineup. Rookie third-line forwards Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta began their first full-professional seasons after playing sparingly for the Avs late last season after their NCAA seasons.
Footnotes. The Avs were also without defenseman Devon Toews and goalie Pavel Francouz against the Blackhawks. Both are on injured reserve. … Colorado’s only healthy scratch was defenseman Kurtis MacDermid. … Forward Jayson Megna was recalled from the AHL’s Colorado Eagles and replaced J.T. Compher on the fourth line. Compher stepped in for Kadri on the second line. … Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the lineup after missing all of last season with an illness, and high-profile defenseman Seth Jones and Fleury made their debuts with Chicago. They were acquired from Columbus and Vegas, respectively, in offseason trades. Blackhawks second-year defenseman Ian Mitchell, a former University of Denver standout and team captain, made his debut at Ball Arena. Former Pioneers forward Henrik Borgstrom was also in the Blackhawks’ lineup.
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