BUFFALO, N.Y. — Commit one penalty against the Avalanche, and hold your breath. Commit two in succession, and start digging yourself a grave.
The Sabres led 2-1 nearing the halfway point of the second period when Henri Jokiharju went to the box for hooking Nathan MacKinnon. Four seconds later, Artturi Lehkonen caught a high stick in the face.
Those who drew the penalties also reaped the rewards in the same order, scoring power-play goals 49 seconds apart to give Colorado a 3-2 lead and awaken the Avalanche’s offense in a 6-4 win.
MacKinnon scored twice in a four-point night that brought his team-leading total to 32 points in 21 games — a season pace of 125. J.T. Compher contributed his second and third goals of the season.
The last 11 minutes of the second period were a whiplash-inducing affair after the Avs (13-7-1) had been looked a bit lifeless for the previous 48 hours. Trying to shake a 5-0 loss Tuesday in Winnipeg, they were still searching for their first even-strength goal of a four-game road stand when MacKinnon and Lehkonen drew the pivotal penalties.
Granted 1:56 of 5-on-3 time, Colorado only needed 80 seconds of it before MacKinnon flicked a game-tying wrister past Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. What proceeded from there was a clinic in power play persistence. Jared Bednar had an opportunity to make a line change, but he kept the top unit on the ice for an extended shift — as has been the recent trend with forward depth lacking.
The puck never exited the offensive zone during the remainder of the power play. As time winded down, Lehkonen provided pressure against the end boards to force a poor clear attempt. Cale Makar stopped the puck at the blue line. Within five seconds, Lehkonen was back in position to calmly dispense MacKinnon’s rebound into the net.
The Avs never relinquished that lead. All three of their goals had still been scored with a man (or men) advantage, but confidence spiked and the game opened up. MacKinnon struck again two minutes later for his first multi-goal game of the season.
The Avs found itself defending a 5-on-3 after simultaneous penalties against Mikko Rantanen (hooking) and Devon Toews (cross-checking). That they almost survived it is a testament to their constantly improving penalty kill. But the Sabres finally scrambled Josh Manson, Andrew Cogliano and Erik Johnson enough to supply Dylan Cozens with a clear shot at the near post with 16 seconds left in the double-penalty.
Still, Colorado’s penalty kill delivered when needed: Buffalo finished 2 for 7 on the power play including two missed chances to even the score in the third period.
On the other side of the special teams coin, the Avalanche went 3 for 6 against a penalty kill that features old pal Tyson Jost. The former Colorado first-round pick landed in Buffalo last month after being placed on waivers by Minnesota. He has been an asset in his new home, but he couldn’t quite corral the puck for a late third-period breakaway against his former team. MacKinnon poked it away. Rantanen scored an empty-netter soon after.
One of Jost’s close Colorado friends played a major role in out-dueling the Sabres. Compher’s two-goal night included one on the power play, one at 5-on-5. His rebound on the rush proved to be the game-winner and the culmination of the decisive four-goal period.
Denver and Buffalo are sports cities at crossroads with each other. Very few Coloradans are going out of their way to watch the Broncos at this point, especially if it conflicts with the Stanley Cup champs. Buffalo seemingly stayed home to watch football Thursday.
As for those in attendance for the Avalanche onslaught, the loudest response of the night from a sparse crowd occurred when Josh Allen threw a touchdown pass on the jumbotron during second intermission.©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit at denverpost.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.