Matt Calvert

Associated Press

Rantanen leads Avalanche in OT comeback win against Flames

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For most of Game 4, it looked like Flames goaltender Mike Smith would be the hero, but just as they did in Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche bombarded him and eventually it worked. Mikko Rantanen played an instrumental role, scoring the game-tying goal late in the third and then the overtime winner in Colorado’s 3-2 victory.

The Calgary Flames were tied for second in the league in goals scored during the regular season, but so far Smith has been their most important player. The 37-year-old goaltender earned Calgary’s only win of the series by posting a 26-save shutout. The Avalanche have made life too difficult for him lately though.

Just one game after the Avalanche managed to blowout Calgary by launching an overwhelming 56 shots at Smith, they sent another 52 shots his way Wednesday night. Smith held firm though for most of the game. His efforts combined with goals from Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan gave the Flames a 2-0 lead by 6:58 of the third period. That’s despite the Avalanche firing 17 shots in the first period and 15 in the second.

Eventually though, their persistence paid off. Barely a minute after Ryan’s goal, Smith made a great save on Matt Calvert, but J.T. Compher picked up the rebound to finally get Colorado on the board. It was a start, but that might have been as close as Colorado got if not for some late penalty troubles by Calgary. Mikael Backlund took a tripping penalty at 16:39 and Noah Hanifin was penalized for a puck over the glass at 17:23.

The Backlund penalty was the one the Avalanche capitalized on, courtesy of Rantanen shoveling a Nathan MacKinnon centering pass into the net. That pushed the game into an overtime period that lasted 10:23 minutes before Rantanen scored again to complete the comeback.

With that, the Colorado Avalanche have a 3-1 series lead despite dropping their playoff opener. At this point, the Flames would have to make franchise history to advance as they’re 0-8 when trailing a series 3-1.

In a Round 1 that’s already featured some major surprises, the Avalanche seem on course to deliver yet another. Of course, hope isn’t lost for the Flames yet, but if they are to bounce back, they’ll need to rely on Smith less. He’s already had to face 173 shots in this series, which is 28 more than any other goaltender.

Avalanche-Flames Game 5 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Friday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Avalanche hold on, regain sole possession of final wildcard in West

In a battle for one lone playoff spot, a massive win by one contending team often demands an equal or greater response from another.

It’s either that or things get dicey.

With Arizona winning 1-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks, they drew level with the Colorado Avalanche on points for the second and final wildcard in the Western Conference. The win threw the ball back in the Avs’ court, a high-stakes game of HORSE that’s drawing ever closer to an epic conclusion after narrowly holding on to a 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Colorado seemed up to the task right out of the gate, finding goals from Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon inside the first 10 minutes of the opening period to jump out to a 2-0 lead through the first 20.

Winners of six of their past 10 outings, and with points in their previous five, the Avs kept their foot on the gas and Tyson Barrie snatched a 3-0 lead early into the second period. Barrie’s goal was his record-breaking 73rd with the franchise, ushering him past Sandis Ozolinsh for most by a defenseman.

The Golden Knights entered the night needing a single point to clinch their second berth into the playoffs for the second time in their two-year existence. Despite not having Marc-Andre Fleury due to injury, the Malcolm Subban-led Knights had done an admirable job holding the fort in his absence with 10 wins in their past 13 games.

And like a team running hot, Vegas stormed back following Barrie’s goal, striking twice through Paul Stastny and Reilly Smith to pull them to within a goal.

Gabriel Bourque restored the two-goal cushion late in the period, a goal that survived a challenge for goaltender interference.

Vegas poured it on in the third, firing 15 shots on Philipp Grubauer (who ended his night with 34 saves). One beat him — an Alex Tuch swat out of mid-air that made for a nail-biting finish for the Avs.

Vegas had several chances when they pulled Subban as a full-frontal assault came the way of the Avalanche net. Adding to the drama was a penalty to the Avalanche with eight seconds left gave Vegas one final chance.

This is how close Jonathan Marchessault came to tying the game, grabbing a point that would have snagged a playoff spot for the Golden Knights.

Arizona’s win and Colorado’s response only adds to the hype train rolling into their meeting on Friday, a game that could very well decide the race if Colorado is to win or one that will write another chapter if Arizona can continue to defy all expectations.

They don’t get bigger than that down the stretch.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blue Jackets GM on trade deadline: ‘If we have to make a hard decision, we will’

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The morning after Artemi Panarin’s agent announced that his client wants to focus on this season and will deal with his future in the summer, it was status quo for Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, the GM said that Panarin’s decision changes “nothing” about the organization’s decision-making process regarding the star forward’s future.

“We’ve said all along we’re going to make hard decisions if we have to, but our focus is on getting our team better and making it as competitive as possible for this spring but also into the future obviously,” said Kekalainen. “If we have to make a hard decision, we will. We like Artemi and would like to keep him, and it’s his right to go into free agency. If he chooses to do so, we’ll be knocking on his door July 1, but we’re going to go about our business here and try to win hockey games and make the playoffs and go as deep as possible this spring, too.”

Panarin’s agent, Dan Milstein, Tweeted out a statement Monday night saying the team had been notified of the decision.

Now the ball is in Kekalainen’s court.

It’d almost be easier for the Blue Jackets’ GM if the team was far out of the playoff picture. Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky can both become unrestricted free agents this summer and there’s been no indication that either player will re-sign in Columbus. If the playoffs weren’t a possibility, then no doubt both would be gone by the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline.

The Blue Jackets currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the New York Islanders. Head coach John Tortorella said Tuesday there was a discussion about this topic with the players and he’s been proud of his team the way they’ve performed with all this hanging above the organization.

“We just go about our business,” Tortorella said. “As I’ve said all along, this has been around us all year long. We get ready to play Buffalo tonight. I know he’s going to be ready to play.”

So how does Kekalainen resolve this? That will depend on who’s calling and what they’re offering. Since both players would be possible rentals for an inquiring team, the return for Columbus likely wouldn’t include any players that could help them now as they chase a playoff spot and eye a deep run in the spring.

It will be a delicate balance for Kekalainen as his phone, which he said was ringing “off the hook” Tuesday, will keep him busy for the next four weeks.

“I think we’re going to have to weigh the decisions in front of us as far as what is out there in the marketplace,” said Kekalainen. “That’s the only answer that I’m going to be able to give you. I’ve made the example from last year when we had offers for Jack Johnson, a pending UFA, and Matt Calvert. We decided to keep them because we thought that was the best thing for our team in the short term, and the long-term benefits to trading them weren’t good enough. It’s the same way in these situations.”

MORE: Panarin won’t discuss future with Blue Jackets until after season

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sharks survive third-period Avalanche, hold on in 5-4 win

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Spotting yourself a 4-1 lead should be easier than that, right?

The San Jose Sharks certainly made things interesting for themselves, and downright hairy nearing the end of their 5-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Sharks were rolling up to the 16:33 mark of the second period. After Avs forward Matt Calvert tied the game 1-1 in the first, the Sharks rattled off three unanswered as Colorado when into full-blown implode mode.

Something like this:

The Sharks were beneficiaries of some suspect goaltending from Philip Grubauer, who gave up four goals on 14 shots and was pulled after Joonas Donskoi‘s goal made it 4-1. That meant rookie Pavel Francouz was sent to the wolves.

Instead, the Czech netminder steadied the ship (after allowing Lukas Radil‘s fifth of the season, of course), making 12 of 13 saves to give the Avalanche a shot at a comeback.

And they tried their darndest to end their five-gaming losing streak, which instead extended to six games in the loss.

Tyson Jost scored his first of two goals in the game while the other Tyson, Tyson Barrie, notched one of his own to put the Avalanche to within one.

The game came down to the last second, literally.

Nathan MacKinnon, announced as an NHL All-Star along with fellow forward Mikko Rantanen earlier on Wednesday, had the tying goal on his stick when Martin Jones, who couldn’t make a save to save his life in the third period, made the only one that mattered in the end, shutting the door from point-blank range to preserve the lead.

Colorado’s near-comeback took a bit of the shine away from both Joe Pavelski‘s and Brent Burns‘ four-point effort. Pavelski’s goal and three assists were paramount for the Sharks, including his third apple on Lukas Radil’s eventual game-winner (which came off a broken play that turned out good in the end).

Burns, meanwhile, had the same stat line, contributing on the first four Sharks goals.

The loss meant a demotion to a wild card spot for the Avalanche, who were overtaken by the victorious Dallas Stars.

San Jose, meanwhile, moved within three points of the Pacific Division summit with the win.

Here’s what Pavelski had to say after this one:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck