Ducks host Avalanche in pivotal West clash
Anaheim (40-25-13) comes in off a physical 2-1 overtime victory versus the Kings in the final game of this year’s Freeway Faceoff.
John Gibson made 28 saves in the win, including two in the final minute of regulation to force overtime. He made two saves in OT as well, including fighting off a puck launched toward his head.
The Ducks went 9-4-1 in March, including a disappointing loss to Vancouver on Tuesday to conclude their Western Canada road trip.
Colorado (42-28-8) defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0 on Friday night. Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier combined to make 33 saves. The Avalanche, who went 8-4-3 in March, have 92 points and need four to double last season’s point total.
Varlamov is out for the season after suffering a lower-body injury with just over six minutes remaining after Tomas Jurco crashed into him Friday. Bernier, who has defeated Anaheim — his former team — twice this season, has played sparingly of late because of injury issues to include a concussion and an infected cut.
Bernier talked about the cut that sidelined him last week: “It wasn’t much, but a couple of days later it got infected, and I spent the weekend at the hospital. It was pretty bad, but lucky enough, I didn’t need a surgery, and I (am) back with the team quicker than we expected, I guess.”
Colorado will also be without top defenseman Erik Johnson, who has a fractured patella and will be out six weeks.
For the Ducks, Rickard Rakell continues to lead in points (66) and goals (32). The Ducks have three players with more than 40 points, including Ryan Getzlaf (57) and Corey Perry (46). Rakell got the OT winner versus Los Angeles, but he had not scored in the prior four games, registering three assists.
Depth scoring matters for the Ducks. Nick Ritchie notched the first Ducks goal, tying the game in the second period. He deflected praise after the game.
“When we’re in the offensive zone, go to the net,” Ritchie said. “We did a good job of that as a team. We got rewarded once. There were a lot of close opportunities other than that one.”
Gibson is 31-18-7 with four shutouts. Since the All-Star break, he is 14-4-2 and leads the league in goals-against average (1.93) while having a top-three save percentage in that time (.938). He has started the last nine Ducks games, posting six wins and gaining one other point.
The Avalanche power play scored three goals versus Chicago. Anaheim is among the most penalized teams in the league, though of late the Ducks have showed discipline. They have been penalized two or fewer times in four of the last five games, and did not give up a power play chance to Los Angeles.
Colorado’s offense is led by Nathan MacKinnon with 93 points. Four Avalanche players have 50 or more points, including Mikko Rantanen (82), Gabriel Landeskog (58) and Tyson Barrie (55). MacKinnon, Rantanen and Barrie’s totals are career highs.
Landeskog played his 500th career game against Vegas on Monday. He is the first player of his draft year (2011) to reach the milestone. For Barrie, the Vegas game marked his 400th career appearance.
The Avs have scored more goals than all but three Western Conference teams. However, Colorado’s offensive output varies greatly from game to game. Over the last 11 contests, they have scored four or more goals six times, but notched two or fewer in the other five games.
After Friday’s win, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said: “I’m not going to judge our team on results only, because we had lots of chances against Philly, and we had lots against Vegas. Sometimes the puck doesn’t go in for you. Sometimes you miss the net on your chances. … Tonight, we had as many chances as against Philly, only tonight we put them (Chicago) away.
“All we can do is take care of what we control, and that’s our games and trying to put points up every night. At the end of it, the chips will land where they do, and we’ll either be in our we’re out.”
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle was quick to focus on the upcoming Avalanche game after Friday’s win over the Kings.
“Now we’re going to play a team that won big tonight at home against Chicago,” Carlyle said. “We’re going to have to park these emotions and the satisfaction we got out of it and get ready for the next one because the next one is the real big one.”
After encountering Anaheim, the Avalanche head to Los Angeles for a back-to-back versus the Kings. The Ducks await the Minnesota Wild at home on Wednesday.