LAS VEGAS | Colorado coach Jared Bednar was blunt Monday night when asked how the Avalanche were able to pull out a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
“Simple. Goaltending – that was it,” Bednar said. “That was the only part of our game I liked.”
J.T. Compher scored a go-ahead goal in the third period and Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves to help Colorado preserve its chances to finish in first place in the West Division.
Despite playing with a short roster for the ninth time this season, Vegas had almost double the scoring chances as Colorado— 40-22 — and outshot the Avalanche 37-21.
“Without (Grubauer) we don’t have a chance,” Bednar said. “Vegas was more competitive. They won a bulk of the puck battles, played with more pace, had better execution. I didn’t think we executed what we wanted to at all. … I thought they were the more physical team tonight, more engaged.”
Bednar added he was pleased with Colorado’s penalty kill, which was 3-for-3 on the night.
Billed as the most important game of the year for both, neither team disappointed with every inch of space, despite key players missing from both lineups, as the Golden Knights dominated the first two periods, while Grubauer and the Avalanche showed their mettle in the final stanza.
Vegas was limited to 15 skaters due to cap restraints and used 10 forwards with five defensemen.
Forward Peyton Krebs suffered a fractured jaw in Saturday’s victory over St. Louis when he was struck with a shot during the second period and is out indefinitely, general manager Kelly McCrimmon said before the game. Defenseman Alec Martinez, who made nine of the team’s 17 blocked shots, was also injured against the Blues and did not play Monday.
Forwards Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves, and Tomas Nosek remained out of the lineup with injuries.
“Not much strategy — everyone’s got to play and everyone’s got to get over the boards and do the job,” DeBoer said. “We talked about staying out of the penalty box and we did that for the most part. We talked about keeping shifts short and keeping our energy, and I thought we had that through the third period. The guys did everything we asked them to, and I just wish they got rewarded for it.”
Colorado, meanwhile, got star center Nathan MacKinnon back after missing two games and still scratched six players, including regular contributors left wing Brandon Saad and defenseman Samuel Girard, who have combined for 55 points this season.
The Avalanche took their first lead of the game when they took advantage of a rather sluggish line change by Vegas, which cleared the puck to the neutral zone and made it switch. Compher bolted from the Colorado bench and grabbed the puck while skating into the zone to start the play by dumping it to Conor Timmins, who passed to Alex Newhook.
Newhook sent the puck to the crease, where Compher was there to knock it past Lehner with his second game-winning goal of the season.
Andre Burakovsky also scored for the Avalanche, who trail the Golden Knights by two points atop the division. Vegas has one game left, Colorado has two.
“It wasn’t our best game, but it was good to get the win,” Grubauer said. “We dialed it up a notch in the last period. We feel pretty comfortable in those tight games. Tonight was a greasy one to finish that road trip.”
Alex Pietrangelo scored for the Golden Knights. Robin Lehner, facing the Avalanche for the first time this season after Marc-Andre Fleury was in net the first seven meetings, stopped 19 shots.
Vegas opened the scoring in the first period, when Pietrangelo fired a rebound of Nic Hague’s shot from the point, with a one-timer from the right dot over the left shoulder of Grubauer.
Alex Tuch had a chance to make it 2-0 when he skated in with William Carrier on an odd-man rush but missed a wide-open net.
The Avalanche, whose second-period plus-36 goal differential is the best in the NHL in any period, got an equalizer seven minutes into the middle frame when Burakovsky waltzed through the slot and lasered a wrist shot glove side to make it 1-1.
“We haven’t had to lean on our goalies a lot this season,” Bednar added. “I genuinely feel we’ve been winning games because our play is good. I don’t like relying on our goaltending, it’s not a good recipe.
“There’s a lesson to be learned from that game. We weren’t ready to compete.”
Colorado: Opens a season-ending two-game home series vs. Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Vegas: Finishes the regular season at San Jose on Wednesday.