Cale Makar had a goal and two assists as the Colorado Avalanche dominated early and hung on late to defeat the visiting Edmonton Oilers 8-6 in Game 1 of the Western Conference final Tuesday.
J.T. Compher scored twice for Colorado, while Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen added an goal and an assist each. Andrew Cogliano and Gabriel Landeskog also found the back of the net, while Devon Toews added two assists.
Darcy Kuemper made 13 saves for the Avalanche before suffering an upper-body injury in the second period. Avalanche backup Pavel Francouz finished with 18 stops.
Connor McDavid, with a goal and two assists, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with a goal and an assist each, Zach Hyman, Ryan McLeod and Derek Ryan replied for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl added two assists.
Mike Smith allowed six goals on 25 shots until getting the hook in the second. Mikko Koskinen made 20 stops the rest of the way.
MacKinnon and McDavid grabbed the headlines coming into a series loaded with skill and speed.
The opener of the teams’ third playoff meeting all-time, and first since 1998, didn’t disappoint with a frantic pace, jaw-dropping sequences and a controversial video review.
The Oilers are in the third round for the first time since 2006 — when they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final — after defeating the Calgary Flames in the first post-season Battle of Alberta in 31 years.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, finally got over a significant hump by making it to the NHL’s final four after three straight second-round exits thanks to their defeat of the St. Louis Blues.
After falling behind by a combined 5-0 scoreline in the first periods of their previous Game 1s losses to the Los Angeles Kings and Flames, the Oilers opened the scoring just over five minutes into Tuesday’s contest when Kane scored his 13th goal in 13 playoff games on a breakaway.
The lead, however, lasted all of 36 seconds as Compher, who scored twice in Colorado’s Game 6 victory to clinch the series against St. Louis, finished off a 2-on-1 with Alex Newhook with his third inside a deafening Ball Arena.
The conference’s top seed continued to flex its muscles with shift after dominant shift as the period wore on before MacKinnon split Edmonton defencemen Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci on a Toews’ stretch pass before beating Smith for his ninth at 15:10.
The Oilers woke up late in the first, with Hyman banging home his ninth, and seventh in his last six games, with 22.8 seconds left in the period.
It looked like Edmonton would escape tied, but the visitors switched off when play resumed, with Makar jumping on a turnover in the neutral zone and wiring his fourth with 13.8 seconds remaining.
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft challenged for offside — which appeared to be the case on first glance, but the goal stood after video review.
The NHL’s situation room determined Colorado winger Valeri Nichushkin “legally tagged up at the blue line before Cale Makar entered the offensive zone with the puck on his stick.”
The league added in its explanation that “Makar made contact with the puck in the offensive zone after Nichushkin was in an onside position.”
The beneficiary of a hotly debated video review in its series-clincher against Calgary when Blake Coleman’s goal late in regulation was waved off, Edmonton was assessed a penalty for delay of game for the failed challenge, and Kadri made the Oilers pay 32 seconds into the second period with his sixth.
Kuemper gave Edmonton life when he spilled Warren Foegele’s initial shot for McCleod to bang in his second at 2:59 to make it 4-3.
The Avalanche goaltender redeemed himself moments later on a Zack Kassian breakaway to set the stage for Rantanen to snipe his second at 4:38.
Colorado then went up 6-3 at 6:20 when Compher tipped home his second of the night on another long Avalanche shift in the offensive zone.
That was it for Smith, while Kuemper was forced from the game with his upper-body injury shortly thereafter.
Cogliano scored his second of the playoffs at 16:20 to push the lead to 7-3 — if proceedings weren’t already giving Oilers fans flashbacks to a 9-6 loss in Game 1 against Calgary, they were now — before McDavid got one back with his eighth just 31 seconds later off a Draisaitl feed as the teams combined for 11 goals in the first 36:51 of action.
Francouz had fans chanting his name after a series of saves on a Edmonton power play late in the period before also robbing McLeod at full stretch.
Ryan got Edmonton to within two with his first at 3:28 of the third to make it 7-5 after Koskinen made a nice stop at the other end with Rantanen in home free.
The Oilers got a power play with under nine minutes left in regulation, and Nugent-Hopkins scored with 7:24 remaining on the clock off a Draisaitl pass for his fifth.
Edmonton continued with a frantic late push with Koskinen on the bench for an extra attacker, but couldn’t find the equalizer before Landeskog scored into the empty net to cap a wild night in Denver that included 14 goals, four netminders, and plenty of drama.
They’ll do it again Thursday in Game 2.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press