Andre Burakovsky already has his name on the Stanley Cup. Since the Colorado Avalanche’s second COVID-19 pause, he's appeared ready for another run at it.
The forward has points in six straight games (four goals, five assists) and 28 of his 51 appearances this season. He was singled out after a weighty game Monday when the team as a whole struggled.
“When he’s skating like that, he’s such a dangerous player,” coach Jared Bednar said.
Burakovsky, who won a title with the Washington Capitals in 2018, sat at 99 career goals during a pair of games against the Los Angeles Kings last weekend, though he had two assists in each contest.
“I’m just a little bit lucky right now,” he said after the win Saturday. “Things are going the right way for me. I’m just trying to create stuff. If it ends up in the goal, I’m happy about that.”
Burakovsky, 26, shrugged off credit for his two helpers that night, saying one pass nicked his skate, and the other was a group effort from the top power-play unit.
There was no deflecting on his 100th. He gave the Avalanche a chance Monday in Vegas when they were being badly outplayed. The Golden Knights kept the NHL’s likely top finisher in goals per game — Colorado trails the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have completed the regular season already, by 0.01 — from setting up in front of Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner. They had trouble even getting through the neutral zone.
Burakovsky passed the puck to Nazem Kadri, who gave it right back. He skated up the ice and unleashed the wrist shot that has worked so many times before, that seems to stun opposing goalies, and tied the game at 7:04 of the second period.
“One guy that at least wanted the puck and wanted to transport the puck on his own,” Bednar said. “He wasn’t always just looking to pass into coverage. Little bit of determination to his game. His checking was fine."
That didn’t stop when he moved up, Bednar said. Burakovsky played well enough that Bednar adjusted his lines, putting Burakovsky with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog with Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin.
Colorado went on to grind out a 2-1 win. Burakovsky is two goals (18) and four points (41) off his career highs, set last season.
There are explanations for the less-than-stellar overall effort. The Avalanche have been on the road for 14 of their past 17 games. They’re missing key players.
There was enough going right, particularly in net, to overcome the many problems. But what will and won’t fly in the playoffs won’t be an abstract concept for much longer.
“What bothered me about tonight’s game is it looked like we wanted it to be easier than what it was going to be,” Bednar said, citing a lack of fighting through tight checking and creativity with the puck.
Burakovsky and goaltender Philipp Grubauer (36 saves), another member of that 2018 Capitals team, plus the trio that connected for the winner — Conor Timmins, Alex Newhook (two assists) and J.T. Compher — stepped up in the biggest game of the regular season so far. That was enough, at least, for Monday.
Thanks to the regulation win over Vegas on Monday, the Avalanche are able to clinch first in the West Division and the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the NHL team with the top regular-season finish. As top point-getters they would be assured of home-ice advantage through the postseason.
If Vegas drops its regular-season finale against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, the Avalanche need one win out of a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Kings at Ball Arena. If the Golden Knights win, Colorado will need both victories to tie them at 82 points. A Vegas overtime or shootout loss cuts the magic number to three points.
The first tiebreaker is games played, which are set to be even. The second is regulation wins, where Colorado leads Vegas 33-29.
“Obviously a great job tonight, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t win the next one,” Grubauer said Monday.