DENVER (AP) — As an early birthday present, Colorado backup goaltender Pavel Francouz received a whole lot of defense and a shutout to go with it.
Just not the nod to take over as the starter. That will have to wait.
Francouz stopped 24 shots for his second career playoff shutout, Nazem Kadri had three assists in a 2:04 span in the second period and the Avalanche beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
“Since the first seconds, I knew they would help me a lot so that made me more calm,” said Francouz, who turned 32 on Friday. “I could just focus on my play.”
The Avalanche focused on proving a point — that a team known for its speed could also play some tenacious “D.” It was under scrutiny after the Game 1 in which they won 8-6 but nearly squandered a four-goal lead.
This time, they locked in.
“Definitely a confidence booster,” Kadri said. “We can play either way — we can score and we can defend.”
Francouz grew stronger with every save he made as he stepped in for Darcy Kuemper, who left Game 1 with an upper-body injury. Francouz was serenaded with chants of “Frankie! Frankie!” from the crowd.
“It was an overall team effort,” Francouz said. “It was better when they were shouting, ‘Go, Avs, Go!’ or ‘Let’s go Avs!.’”
For as good as he was, coach Jared Bednar wasn’t ready to proclaim him the starter moving forward.
“We’ll see,” Bednar said. “We’ll evaluate the game and we’ll talk to Darcy and Frankie and then we’ll make our decision.”
Colorado held Edmonton’s big three of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane to seven shots. Draisaitl saw his streak of nine straight games with at least one assist come to an end.
“They’ve got good players. They’ve got good D-men,” McDavid said. “They do a lot of good things, and we’ve got to find a way to figure them out.”
The Avalanche broke through in the second after a scoreless opening period that featured something rarely seen so far in this series — defense. Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson scored 15 seconds apart to get things going in the second, with Mikko Rantanen adding another on Kadri’s third assist.
Nathan MacKinnon scored late in the third. He had 11 shots.
Game 3 is Saturday in Edmonton. The Avalanche are 5-0 on the road so far in these playoffs, and 15-4 in a best-of-seven series when taking a 2-0 lead.
Mike Smith allowed four goals on 40 shots. This after the 40-year-old Smith was pulled in Game 1 after surrendering six goals.
Edmonton is looking to regroup at home.
“We’re certainly not counting ourselves out of this one,” Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie said. “We’ve got a lot of hockey left to play.”
To slow down the speedy MacKinnon, Edmonton tried to shadow him at all times. The relentless pressure included a trip by Duncan Keith after the whistle. It didn’t draw a penalty but drew plenty of boos from the crowd. MacKinnon also got smacked in the face on a play.
Kadri was originally credited with the first goal at 3:58 of the second before it was ruled that Lehkonen tipped the puck. Kadri ended up tying the franchise record for assists in a period. It was a mark set by Quebec’s Risto Siltanen in 1987 and matched in 1996 by Avalanche Hall of Fame forward turned GM Joe Sakic.
“Some fortunate bounces,” Kadri said.
Colorado and Edmonton turned in about as entertaining first period as possible for no goals scored. It included Edmonton weathering Colorado’s 5-on-3 advantage.
There was also a play where Smith used his helmet to redirect a puck out of the air.
Francouz got into the nifty save act, too, including one when he ventured well out of his crease. He was able to stop Cody Ceci’s liner.
“He looked really poised,” Bednar said. “Just sitting in the right spot all night and made most of the saves look easy.”
THIS & THAT
Colorado’s two goals over a 15-second span was the fifth-fastest in a playoff game in franchise history, according to NHL Stats. The fastest was seven seconds by Adam Foote and Adam Deadmarsh during the 1996 conference final against Detroit.
After his goal, Manson turned to look at the Oilers bench. Was he looking at his dad, assistant coach Dave Manson?
“I was looking at one person. Not my dad,” said Manson, who was a minus-four in Game 1. “I was just happy. I needed a little bounce-back game … and it was nice to see that one go in.”
Bednar didn’t specify the exact nature of Kuemper’s injury or say whether it had anything to do with the stick that went through Kuemper’s mask and caught him near the eye during the Nashville series.
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