Avalanche backup goalie Hunter Miska earns first career NHL victory, 3-2, at Coyotes
Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog played angry in the desert when he wrapped his arms around Arizona Coyotes forward Conor Garland and slammed him to the ice in one easy motion.
A slumbering Colorado team on Friday night — lacking physicality in consecutive losses — suddenly woke up.
“It looked a little bit like WWE, for me, it was pretty funny,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. “I saw it close. For sure, it got us going. I think Garland punched him or something, so you have to give those right back. That’s exactly what Landy did.”
The Avs defeated the Coyotes, 3-2, as forward Nazem Kadri recorded three points (one goal) and the team played without two key faces in the lineup.
Forward Matt Calvert participated in warmups but was ruled out before the game started with a lower-body injury. Starting goalie Philipp Grubauer, given a rest day, was replaced by backup Hunter Miska for his third start of the season. Miska saved 16-of-18 Arizona shots he faced — for the 25-year-old Minnesota native’s first career NHL victory in net.
“I thought the team played extremely well in front of me,” Miksa said, “and gave me lanes to see the puck.”
The Avalanche (10-6-1) plays the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday night against the Coyotes (9-8-3) in Glendale, Ariz.
On Friday, the first period finished scoreless with the Avs killing one penalty but failing to capitalize on two power-plays. No problem. Colorado held an 11-6 shots-on-goal advantage and became clear the aggressor. Landeskog, with 1:36 left in the first period, tossed Garland like a rag doll. Both players earned roughing penalties and Garland left for the locker room.
Moments later, Colorado came to life on a power-play early in the second period when Mikko Rantanen tapped a Kadri crossing pass into the net. The Coyotes also relied on backup goaltender, Adin Hill, and the Avalanche led 1-0 entering the third period.
Colorado forwards Andre Burakovsky and Kadri both scored in the third period to provide Miska a shutout opportunity with under three minutes to play. But Arizona scored twice — from Phil Kessel and Drake Cagguila — to make things tense until the final seconds.
“I thought (Miska) looked really good for the bulk of the game,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “Then he got caught out of the net a couple of times at the end. He looked like he got nervous, ready to get a big win, and just got a little ahead of himself. … He didn’t get a lot of shots, but everything he had, he handled it clean. He looked composed.”
Avs defenseman Jacob MacDonald received a welcomed 28th birthday present Friday with his roster activation from the taxi squad, replacing Conor Timmins. MacDonald skated on the team’s third defensive pairing with Bo Byram. Forward Brandon Saad also returned to the lineup after a one-game absence due to his wife recently giving birth. It was the Saad family’s second child.
Grubauer did not play on Friday, however, he is expected to return in net for Colorado’s upcoming three games in Arizona.
“I think it’s time for Gruby to get some rest,” Bednar said before the game. “He’s been carrying the load for us and he’s been outstanding all year long. … I thought he played really well in the last game against Vegas to give us a chance to win that game. Their goalie just happened to be outstanding that night. We go into the (Wild) game, and nothing against Gruby, but I didn’t think he was as sharp. He kind of fell into the realm of the rest of our team.”
The Avalanche faces a daunting schedule ahead with six games over the next nine days.
“We’ve been through stretches like this before,” Kadri said earlier in the week. “It’s obviously physically and mentally pretty draining. But I think the coaching staff does a good job of giving us off days and recovery days in order to just get your mind and body right. We’re being smart with the rest days.”