Things looked bleak for the Colorado Avalanche late Saturday night. Down a game to the Calgary Flames in the series and a goal in Game 2 with time running out, their fortunes turned quickly — and in many ways.
J.T. Compher tied the game with 2:39 left in regulation, Nathan MacKinnon won it in overtime and then Colorado got more great news: Its top prospect is signed and ready to play perhaps as soon as Game 3 on Monday night.
While it has been a busy weekend for the Avalanche, their new defenseman has had a whirlwind 36 hours. Cale Makar won the Hobey Baker Award as the best college hockey player, played in the NCAA title game with the University of Massachusetts — a 3-0 loss to the University of Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday evening — and signed a three-year entry level contract with Colorado.
The Avalanche, coming off the 3-2 win in Calgary on Saturday night, announced the signing Sunday morning and said the 20-year-old will join the team immediately.
“Cale obviously had a tremendous season, winning the Hobey Baker and getting his team to the Frozen Four,” Colorado general manager Joe Sakic said in a release. “He is a game-changing type of player who made a lasting impact on the UMass hockey program. We are excited to have him join our team.”
Head coach Jared Bednar would not say for sure that Makar would play in Game 3, calling it a “possibility.”
“I just want to make sure he’s in, rested, prepared, focused on what we’re doing here,” Bednar said.
Adding another layer to the narrative is that Makar is from Calgary, meaning his first NHL game would be against his hometown team.
The Avalanche think Makar is a generational talent, and he’ll get a chance to show it against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Flames finished the regular season with 107 points, 17 more than Colorado, but are in a dogfight after missing an opportunity to take a 2-0 series lead on Saturday night.
“We have to be better,” Calgary defenseman and captain Mark Giordano said after the game. “We have to be a lot harder to play against, and we know that. We had moments tonight, but we have to put a full 60 (minutes) together.”
The Avalanche beat Flames goaltender Mike Smith just once in the first 117 minutes of the series before Compher tied it. In overtime, after a great save by Philipp Grubauer on one end, MacKinnon’s wrister beat Smith high to send Colorado home even and confident.
“We feel good. We feel going back to Pepsi Center that we can hopefully win two games,” MacKinnon said after the game. “Saying that, we have to take care of Game 3, but we feel good as a group.”
Colorado should expect a Calgary team ready to atone for blowing a third-period lead. The Flames felt they didn’t bring enough urgency to Game 2 and promise to show it Monday night.
“They seemed hungrier than us. Seemed like they wanted it more than us, and we’re definitely going to learn from that,” Calgary forward Sam Bennett said after Saturday’s loss. “We can’t sit back. Into Game 3, we’ve got to play with that urgency that they played with and I think we definitely learned a lesson tonight.”