Avs crush Blackhawks without Cale Makar, out with lower-body injury

The Chicago Blackhawks look unrecognizable, even from the team that delivered a gut check to Colorado’s season in January. The Avalanche have looked unbeatable since then.

Against a shell of the Blackhawks’ former selves, the Avs sailed to a 5-0 win Monday night at Ball Arena behind Alexandar Georgiev’s 26-save shutout, his fifth of the season.

“Definitely pretty confident right now, and we know some of the opponents are fighting for their jobs and maybe don’t have much to lose,” Georgiev said. “It’s important for us to approach every game like an important one and not let it slide.”

Colorado (41-22-6) was gasping to stay above .500 and keep up in the playoff race after a 3-2 loss Jan. 12 at United Center. It was the end of a 1-6-1 stretch coming out of the holiday break. At the 40-game mark, the Avs were 20-17-3.

They have the best record in the NHL (21-5-3) since that day, punctuated by their current six-game win streak.

“Especially off a good road trip like that, it’s one day (off), guys are tired, energy is low,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “Playing a team that you feel like you should beat. So it’s a little bit of a trap game. … You’ve got to be ready to go, and I just thought it was a smart, disciplined hockey game from our guys.”

The Blackhawks were already tanking at that point. But they truly accelerated (or decelerated) between Avalanche matchups, trading Patrick Kane, Max Domi, Sam Lafferty and Jake McCabe before the deadline.

And Jack Johnson to Colorado. Acquired in an exchange of depth defensemen — Andreas Englund is injured and didn’t play for Chicago in Denver — Johnson was up on the Avalanche’s second pairing Monday. Cale Makar is out with a lower-body injury, classified as day-to-day after a minor tweak in Saturday’s win at Detroit.

Bednar said it’s “nothing too serious.” But at this point in the season, the Avs aren’t taking any chances with their defending Norris Trophy winner, who was feeling sore during morning skate. Makar started on the ice, but he went to the bench for a discussion with Bednar and trainers as Colorado began special teams drills. Bo Byram operated the top power play unit as Makar didn’t return.

Queue the domino effect with Sam Girard on the top pairing, Johnson on the second and Kurtis MacDermid on the third. The enforcer was back in the lineup after missing 13 days with his own lower-body injury.

“I felt good,” MacDermid said. “Had some good days leading up to get my conditioning back, so felt good.”

He announced his return by scoring his first goal of the season, thanks to a first-period stroke of puck luck — although teammates would argue there’s no such thing as luck. Bo Byram quipped that MacDermid plays pool.

Throwing a puck toward the net but not initially on target, MacDermid’s shot ricocheted off the knee of Chicago’s Ian Mitchell. It was also a deserving result for Colorado’s fourth line, which had a strong start to the game between Matt Nieto, Alex Newhook and Alex Galchenyuk.

“Tried to get it through,” MacDermid said, “and it took a lucky bounce.”

As the Avalanche’s lowest scorer found the back of the net, so did the team’s highest scorer and its hottest. Mikko Rantanen cashed in on a power play for No. 47, inching closer to the 50-goal mark with 13 regular-season games remaining. And Denis Malgin scored twice, bringing him to eight goals in the last 18 games.

Georgiev’s season save percentage is up to .919. He has allowed two goals in Colorado’s last three games, aiding the win streak to pull back within one point of Dallas for first place in the Central.

“We’ve kind of been in this position before where we’ve tracked down the teams in front of us, got real close and then didn’t handle it properly,” Bednar said. “Had a little dip in our game.  We’re trying to learn from that.”

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