TORONTO — A few of the newest relics in the Hockey Hall of Fame include a jersey worn by Nathan MacKinnon in the 2022 Stanley Cup-clinching game, a prestigious trophy with a spot reserved for Cale Makar’s engraved name and a burgundy-bejeweled ring.
The reminders of Colorado’s accomplishment last season are resting behind glass two blocks away from Scotiabank Arena, where this season’s Avs encountered one of their last major tests of the 2022-23 regular season Wednesday. If they hope to repeat, there’s a chance they’ll have to go through Toronto again after a captivating 2-1 shootout win in which Alexandar Georgiev saved all three shots.
Nathan MacKinnon scored the only shootout goal, going five-hole.
Overtime, sometimes an overly timid stalemate in the 3-on-3 era, was riveting here. Both offenses remained aggressive. Both defenses were clutch. Valeri Nichushkin nearly scored a rebound winner. Michael Bunting hit a crossbar for the Leafs.
With 16 games to go, the Avs (37-22-6) possess the No. 31 remaining strength of schedule in the league. This Toronto matchup was their last of the regular season vs. any of the Eastern Conference’s six juggernauts. They finished 3-6-2 against those six, including a lopsided loss to the Leafs in December.
Toronto has morphed a lot since then. In a historically aggressive trade deadline, general manager Kyle Dubas acquired Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn (both out vs. Colorado), Noel Acciari, Jake McCabe, Sam Lafferty and Erik Gustafsson, revamping an already-outstanding team.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche’s more tepid deadline was accompanied by another recent injury, this time to top-line wing Artturi Lehkonen on Monday in Montreal. It left the organization scrambling for a mid-road trip call-up. Alex Galchenyuk was the verdict, but he only played 3:22 on Alex Newhook’s fourth line.
So Jared Bednar was essentially rolling with 11 forwards, while the Maple Leafs used a lineup of 11 with seven defensemen. A stingy battle between defenses unfolded, and the Avalanche had still limited Toronto to just 12 shots on goal through two periods.
The penalty kill units stepped up. Colorado scored on its first power play with a bit of puck luck — a Mikko Rantanen pass redirected off a defender and between goalie Ilya Samsonov’s legs — but then the Leafs locked the door. An Avalanche power play that had scored on five consecutive opportunities suddenly went silent in its last four tries.
At the other end, Toronto went 0 for 3, bringing Colorado’s penalty kill rate to 95.2% (20 for 21) in the last seven games and 89.6% (43 for 48) in the last 16.
Rantanen, Bednar and MacKinnon wanted another power play chance late in the third period after Toronto flicked a puck over the glass and out of play. The officials congregated but didn’t call a delay of game.
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