The Avalanche coaching staff, and the newcomers filling in during desperate times, played their cards right in Game 5.
A “black ace” is a player an NHL team feels is capable of contributing if the team runs into trouble during the postseason. And trouble is what Colorado found early in a second-round series against the Dallas Stars.
The Avalanche lost their starting goaltender and longest-tenured defenseman in Philipp Grubauer and Erik Johnson, respectively, to injury. Steadying forwards Matt Calvert and Joonas Donskoi have also missed multiple games.
Then after being pulled in Game 4, goaltender Pavel Francouz was unfit to play as well. The Avalanche had to go deeper down their depth chart and even summon someone from outside the bubble.
Hunter Miska backed up Michael Hutchinson in net on Monday. Miska went pro after one season with Minnesota-Duluth and has 18 minutes of NHL experience, which came last season with the Arizona Coyotes. He split this season between Colorado’s ECHL and AHL affiliates.
He wasn’t even in Edmonton, but home in Minnesota. He said he was told to prepare as if he was coming in, and sure enough, he got the call.
“We’re all here trying to prove ourselves and trying to stick in this league,” Miska said.
Fellow National Collegiate Hockey Conference alum Logan O’Connor gave up his senior year and the captaincy at Denver to sign with the crosstown Avalanche in the summer of 2018. He has filled in on the fourth line since Game 3. On Monday he sent a deft cross-ice pass to trailing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who scored the first of five straight goals for Colorado.
“It’s not all that easy to come like this and just jump in, but he’s doing an unbelievable job,” Bellemare said.
With the two goaltenders that split the Colorado net during the regular season unavailable, Hutchinson made 31 saves in his NHL postseason debut. He was acquired at the trade deadline and is undefeated in all of two Colorado starts.
Bednar, as usual, didn’t tip his hand in regards to the Game 6 starter Wednesday. However he said he was “really happy with the way” Hutchinson played and alluded to the future.
“He’s an experienced goalie. He’s been around,” Bednar said. “He’s got something to prove, he’s been working real hard, he’s an unbelievable person. Makes it easy to cheer for him and makes it easy for our guys to play hard in front of him.
“I was kind of expecting the performance that we got, to be honest. I’m hoping he can repeat it a few more times.”
Bednar said Conor Timmins moved into the practice group featuring the roster regulars when Johnson was injured. Kevin Connauton earned the nod the next three games, but with the Avalanche scrambling for a winning formula, it was Timmins’ turn to make his NHL postseason debut.
Timmins is a right-handed shot to Connauton’s left, which helps Bednar get closer to the balance he prefers.
“He moved the puck real well, used his first option, didn’t complicate things,” Bednar said after the game. “He was a real good defender. I really liked his night.”
Game 6 is Wednesday night.