DENVER (AP) — The puck bounced off the boards behind the net and straight to Devon Toews, who stood wide open in front.
A home-ice sort of carom. A home-ice sort of goal.
No wonder the Avalanche like this place.
Toews scored with 4:26 remaining, Darcy Kuemper stopped 38 shots and Colorado tied the franchise record for most home wins in a season with a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
It was win No. 28 at Ball Arena, matching Colorado’s marks from 2000-01 and 2017-18. At 28-4-3, Colorado possesses the league’s top home points percentage (.843).
“Our guys obviously get up for playing at home,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “Tonight was a perfect example of that. I mean, the anthem singer was awesome. The crowd was buzzing, the chants were started before the first puck drop. It’s hard not to get into that, right?”
Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Mikko Rantanen also scored for Colorado in a fast-paced game that had just one penalty and featured two of the best scorers in the business, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon.
Mike Matheson and Crosby had goals for the Penguins. Crosby’s goal gave him 1,397 career points — one point away from joining Jari Kurri and Alex Ovechkin in a three-way tie for 21st-most in NHL history.
“We generated some good chances — really quality chances,” Crosby said. “Not enough went in and they got a bounce and buried it.”
Toews knocked in a carom off the boards 27 seconds after Matheson tied it up at two. His goal was set up when MacKinnon turned and shot the puck.
Or was it a pass?
“I don’t know if Nate meant to miss the net or not but it worked out nice,” Toews said. “Perfect bounce off the back of the boards to me.”
Soon after, Darren Helm drew a holding penalty but the Avalanche were able to weather the Penguins’ power play. They also withstood a final push when the Penguins pulled goaltender Tristan Jarry for an extra skater and Avs forward J.T. Compher blocked a last-second shot by Evgeni Malkin.
“It’s two great teams going at it,” said Jarry, who had 35 saves. “Their goalie played really well.”
It was the Penguins’ first visit to the Mile High City since Jan. 10, 2020. The Pittsburgh fans turned out in numbers, too, evident by the noise level after Crosby’s tying goal in the second period.
Colorado’s fans were just as loud when Aube-Kubel scored on a laser — nearly 96 mph — 20 seconds later to make it 2-1. It was Aube-Kubel’s first goal since Feb. 13.
Rantanen gave Colorado a 1-0 lead midway through the second period when he batted in a puck that popped out of the glove of Jarry. The goal was set up on a drop pass from MacKinnon to Andre Burakovsky, who lined the shot that Jarry couldn’t corral.
It was a fast-moving scoreless first period in which the Avalanche and Penguins combined for 28 shots. Evan Rodrigues had the top scoring chance on a breakaway, but his shot was turned back by Kuemper.
This contest was billed as a showdown between MacKinnon and Crosby, who are good buddies and offseason training partners.
“I’m sure it’s fun for Nate and Sid,” Bednar said of their friendly rivalry. “But it’s not just Nate versus Sid. It’s our whole lineup against their whole lineup.”
Penguins forward Jason Zucker was a scratch Saturday. He returned to the lineup Thursday in Minnesota after missing quite a bit of time due to core muscle surgery.
But he left in the second period and didn’t return after a hard crash into the boards. Coach Mike Sullivan said Zucker was being evaluated.
Colorado was without leading scorer Nazem Kadri, who was a scratch due to an injury after taking a hit in the game against San Jose on Thursday.
“He’s going to miss some time,” Bednar said. “He felt like he got hit by a car. He’s sore. He’s banged up.”
THIS & THAT
Helm played in his 800th NHL game. His kids held up a sign along the boards to commemorate the moment before the game. … Colorado’s string of nine straight games with a power-play goal was snapped. … Penguins forward Jake Guentzel had two assists. So did MacKinnon, who now has 400 for his career.
The Avalanche and Penguins meet again Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Asked what needed to change before they play again, Sullivan responded: “The result.”
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