Avalanche uses hot start to defeat Blackhawks in season opener

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.

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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 Nazem 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.

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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 …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Sports


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