DENVER - It had the makings of a misstep, but the Colorado Avalanche turned Saturday night’s game into a dance.
J.T. Compher tied things up off a no-look, through-the-legs pass from Mikko Rantanen. Teammate Devon Toews sealed a 5-4 victory in overtime.
The Avalanche spotted the Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-0 lead and trailed 4-1 with 3:13 left in the second period.
In overtime Toews gave the puck to Nazem Kadri, who tapped it right back. Toews pressed closer to Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell and put a shot underneath him.
“He was so patient,” coach Jared Bednar said of Toews. “We got the puck up top. He waits all the way out there, drags them out, makes them expand and then he jumps by them. It was a great read.”
Toronto had won four straight and Colorado three. Toronto star Auston Matthews scored a hat trick in the teams’ first meeting this season, an 8-3 Maple Leafs rout Dec. 1.
“We wanted to do a little payback," Rantanen, who had four assists said. "We didn’t start the right way but I think the three goals gave us even more anger to come back and show that it’s not over and we’re not losing that easy."
“They’re a really good team, but so are we. I think we showed it in the last two (periods).”
Matthews scored twice Saturday at Ball Arena before the Avalanche responded.
“We couldn’t do anything against him in the first period,” Bednar said. “It was like a man against boys.”
Starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper mopped up as the Avalanche lost footraces and allowed several odd-man rushes. His poke check prevented a chance after Toews lost track of the puck in front of the net. But after Matthews scored twice in 33 seconds to make it 3-0 late in the first period, Kuemper was pulled for the first time this season.
Backup Pavel Francouz came in and made 18 saves. His 2020-21 season was wiped out by hip surgeries and a preseason leg injury delayed his comeback. Francouz picked up the regular-season win, his first since March 11, 2020.
“It was a long time coming for him,” Rantanen said. “He had some really bad luck in the past year, so it was really nice to see him there. He was doing some unreal saves and keeping us in the game when it was 4-1 and even 4-2.”
Nathan MacKinnon trimmed the Toronto lead to two with 2:49 left in the first period. He finished off a series of quick passes and his shot was tipped through Campbell’s legs.
“I felt like we really changed our game since I stepped in, as a team,” Francouz said. “Most of the time I was just watching our team playing in their zone.
“Great hockey game.”
After the Maple Leafs' Nick Ritchie restored the three-goal lead, Cale Makar skated around the right faceoff circle and beat a screened Campbell (44 saves) to make it 4-2.
The frequency and quality of Avalanche chances dramatically improved after that. Campbell made the save of the game in the final seconds of an Avalanche man advantage, diving to deny Toews.
Gabriel Landeskog had drawn that penalty. When the power play didn’t pan out, he tried again. Rantanen whipped another behind-the-back pass at Landeskog in the crease. The captain swatted it in for his fourth goal in two games.
Colorado was porous early, then not to be denied. Toronto gave them a harder time of it than the Chicago Blackhawks did Tuesday, cycling well and keeping sticks in passing lanes, but the Avalanche sealed their second come-from-behind overtime victory of the week.
“We’re proud of that comeback and hopefully it keeps us going,” Compher said.