Wednesday’s opening night could be the start of thunderous moments throughout the season at the Ball Arena, where the Stanley Cup Avalanche came out humming past the first capacity crowd in the building since March 11. 2020.
Minus center superstar Nathan MacKinnon and head coach Jared Bednar – both on COVID protocol – the Avs played distraction-free hockey as they beat the legendary Chicago Blackhawks 4-2.
Colorado scored goals from Jack Johnson and Gabe Landeskog at 1:22 early in the first period and led 3-0, thanks to rookie Bo Byram, at just 9:34. The Avs outscored the Blackhawks 16-2 in the first 11 minutes before the Blackhawks regrouped after taking their time out.
“(A quick start) was something we talked about, just getting ready,” said Avs center Nazem Kadri, who scored the fourth goal. “A good start always helps increase your chances, so scoring that first goal was big and it worked tonight. “
Chicago scored a power-play goal to reduce the deficit, but new Avs goaltender Darcy Kuemper stopped all 13 shots he faced in the second period as Colorado extended their lead to 4-1 with a Kadri’s late goal.
Landeskog, Byram and Kadri also each got an assist in the multi-point matches. Landeskog left the game with 3:34 left after being assessed as a minor collision and roughness after delivering a big blow to Kirby Dach. This led to a 6-on-4 attack on Kuemper after Blackhawks goaltender Marc-André Fleury was pulled out for an additional forward, but the last-ditch effort turned out to be empty.
The Blackhawks got their second goal from defenseman Connor Murphy with 4:29 left.
Kuemper finished with 34 saves in what was to be considered a formidable start with his new club.
It was the Avs’ first game against the Central Division rivals Blackhawks since December 21, 2019. The teams played in different divisions last season.
The Avs, who played in front of a limited number of home fans to end last season, are 100% vaccinated against COVID-19, but Bednar tested positive late last week and MacKinnon tested positive Monday. On Wednesday, the Colorado bench was led 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 power play.
Colorado welcomed four newcomers to Wednesday’s roster, starting with Kuemper. Fourth line winger Darren Helm and third pair defenders Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson were also on the roster. Rookie third-row forwards Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta entered their first full professional season after playing sparingly for the Avs at the end of last season following their seasons in the NCAA.
Footnotes. The Avs were also without defenseman Devon Toews and goalkeeper Pavel Francouz against the Blackhawks. Both are in the casualty reserve. … Colorado’s only healthy scratch was defenseman Kurtis MacDermid. … Forward Jayson Megna was recalled from the Colorado Eagles to the AHL and replaced JT Compher on the fourth line. Compher replaced Kadri in the second row. … Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the lineup after missing all of last season with illness, and star defensemen Seth Jones and Fleury made their debuts for Chicago. They were acquired in Columbus and Vegas, respectively, as part of offseason trades. Blackhawks second-year defenseman Ian Mitchell, former University of Denver star and team captain, made his Ball Arena debut. Former Pioneer forward Henrik Borgstrom was also part of the Blackhawks roster.