Nathan MacKinnon hits 100-point mark in Avalanche's 5-0 shutout of Blackhawks

Corey Masisak, The Denver Post on

Published in Hockey

CHICAGO — The first trip to the Windy City was one of the low points of the 2023-24 season for the Colorado Avalanche.

This one was significantly better.

Justus Annunen recorded his first NHL shutout, Nathan MacKinnon reached 100 points for the second time in his career and the Avalanche got contributions from throughout the lineup Thursday night while dispatching the lowly Chicago Blackhawks, 5-0, at United Center.

Devon Toews authored a memorable postgame dissection of his team’s struggles the last time the Avalanche played in this building. Colorado had just lost for the seventh time in 11 games, and Toews went off.

The Avs just went through a similar funk coming out of the All-Star break, but there was no need for any postgame criticism this time. Four players scored, including Toews just before the buzzer to end the second intermission and put an exclamation point on a dominant middle period.

Jack Johnson had one of the best shifts by an Avs defenseman this season, which led to Zach Parise’s second goal with the club since signing in late January and the lone score in the first period. Johnson denied phenom Connor Bedard’s scoring chance in the slot, then stripped the puck from Anthony Beauvillier near the defensive blue. That ignited a 2-on-1 the other way, and Johnson’s no-look pass set up Parise for an easy one-timer.

Ross Colton helped MacKinnon collect his 99th point early in the second by pouncing on a rebound near the side of the net. Some fancy stickwork by Jonathan Drouin and Ryan Johansen led to Parise’s second goal of the night less than a minute later.

Toews concluded an impressive 5-on-5 shift that looked like a power play with a blast from the left point 1.7 seconds before the second period ended. MacKinnon added a goal late in the third to hit the century mark.

But the big story was at the other end of the ice. Avs coach Jared Bednar noted earlier in the day that Colorado’s two longest ruts of the season — the one that ended here in December and the one that ended with a loss in Tampa, Fla., at the conclusion of a 1-4-1 road trip — were pretty similar. Both were defined by defensive issues — both in the details of how the club defended and its commitment to do so.


That game in Tampa was also the start of Annunen’s current run of strong play. He stopped 33 of 37 shots that night, and Bednar praised his work. Then he turned aside 28 of 30 last week in Detroit.

Annunen did his best work in the first period Thursday against the Blackhawks. The guys in front of him were also on point. Colorado has had goal prevention issues at different points this season, but the Avalanche has now allowed two goals or fewer in four of the past five contests.

Who should be the Avs’ backup goalie to Alexandar Georgiev has been a season-long concern, but it suddenly looks like a position of strength. Not only has Annunen put together three straight plus performances, but Ivan Prosvetov is putting up video game-like numbers for the Colorado Eagles in the AHL.

Prosvetov had been the No. 2 guy for the Avs for most of the season, but he wasn’t playing very much. Now he’s 8-0-0 with a 1.25 goals against average and .959 save percentage for the Eagles, helping make them one of the hottest teams in the league.

Annunen’s play has allowed the Avs to give Georgiev more rest, and he is sporting a .915 save percentage over his past 10 starts. When the Avs play well defensively and get capable goaltending, they look like a team capable of winning a second championship in the past three seasons.

They looked like a far different club Thursday night than the one that arrived here two months ago.


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