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Recap: Slow start proves costly in Panthers 5-3 loss to Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon scored twice and added an assist to lift the Colorado Avalanche to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena. The Panthers finished a five-game homestand with a 3-2 record.

A major problem during this homestand was starting on time. The Cats gave up the opening goal in four of the five games. They were able to overcome against Boston and San Jose, not Los Angeles and the two-goal hole they dug themselves against the defending champs, who were coming off an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay, left too much of an uphill battle to win in the end.

Aleksander Barkov drew an early tripping call on Erik Johnson, but it was the Avalanche who got the special teams goal. A misplay of Samuel Girard’s clear by Carter Verhaeghe allowed Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor to break out 2-on-1. Cogliano’s pass struck Gustav Forsling and ended up bouncing off Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads and O’Connor was able to jam the rebound into the net 3:35 after initial puck drop.

Matt Nieto put Colorado up two at 8:04 by slamming a one-timer home, courtesy of a fine JT Compher’s feed from behind the net after Compher stole the puck from Barkov along the boards.

Bobrovsky would stop the next 12 Avalanche shots to get his harried team to the dressing room without falling even further behind.

The Panthers regrouped and would soon draw even with two goals 1:05 apart.

After taking a pass from Anton Lundell at the right point, Aaron Ekblad snapped a fluttering wrist shot on goal that went over a screened Alexander Georgiev’s glove after Barkov waved at it and missed. Sam Reinhart picked up the secondary helper on Ekblad’s ninth, which came at the 7:03 mark.

Radko Gudas broke up a Girard rush and Matthew Tkachuk quickly headmanned to Erc Staal to create a 2-on-1 opportunity. Staal sent a rink-wide cross to Sam Bennett, who moved into the zone and sniped Georgiev from a sharp angle at 8:08. To the beat, y’all!

Unfortunately, the Cats gave the lead right back to Colorado 25 seconds later. Bo Byram played catch with MacKinnon before letting go of a big blast that Bobrovsky stopped. Byram’s defense partner Devon Toews had gone down low hunting for a rebound and he found it, getting inside E. Staal to convert.

MacKinnon drew a hooking call on Eetu Luostarinen and then scored on the subsequent power play at 14:01 to put the Avalanche back up by a deuce. After Bobrovksy made a nice save on Atturi Lehkonen, the rebound ended up in the air after Mikko Rantanen and Forsling whacked at it. The puck landed back in the slot where MacKinnon ripped a wrister top-shelf through traffic for his first of the night.

The Panthers lit the lamp at 11:03 of third, scoring off the rush to pull within a goal. Forsling lugged the puck out of danger before getting it up to Tkachuk, who chipped it into the offensive zone to Sam Reinhart. A patient Reinhart sent a perfectly timed centering pass through two defenders to Barkov, who guided the puck under Georgiev.

Florida would put another seven shots on Georgiev, but with Bobrovsky off for an extra attacker, Verhaghe tried to force a pass from right to left and the Avalanche went the other way and MacKinnon ended it with 59 ticks left on the clock, with the assists going to Rantanen and Compher.

The first ten minutes of the game ended up looming large. Tossing out the empty-netter, the Cats played well and outscored the Avalanche 3-2 the rest of the way. The slow starts, which also cost them big-time in the opener of the homestand against the Kings, have got to stop. Hard to fathom why that’s happening, especailly at home, with so much on the line.  Washington’s win over Boston, put them four points ahead of the Panthers, while Pittsburgh got blitzburghed by Los Angeles to remain three points ahead of the Cats, with a trio of games in hand.

Peaks & Valleys

  • Nathan MacKinnon notched the 47th game-winning goal of his career, tying Michel Goulet for third in Colorado/Quebec franchise history behind Joe Sakic (86) and Milan Hejduk (59).
  • It was a busy night for the keepers. Sergei Bobroksy stopped 45 of 49 shots to drop back to NHL. 500 at 14-14-2 while Alexander Georgiev made 42 saves to post his 21st win of the campaign.
  • Eleven of Georgiev’s stops came shorthanded as the Panthers went 0 for 4 with the man-advantage. Florida’s failure on the power play was another key in the defeat.
  • Matthew Tkachuk had two assists and matched Mikko Rantenen and Evan Rodrigues with a game-high seven shots. Tkachuk has five goals and 17 points in his past nine games.
  • Logan O’Connor’s game-opening goal, which came on his only shot, was his first marker in 39 games.
  • The teams split the season series with each winning on the road. Read more about it at Mile High Hockey./