Nathan MacKinnon ties it, wins it for Avalanche in overtime thriller over Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Avalanche have prided themselves on a season of historic poise away from home. When they needed it most, they resurrected their division title dreams.

After coughing up a 2-0 lead with four unanswered goals allowed Sunday night, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon scored power-play goals in the last eight minutes to force overtime, where MacKinnon delivered on another power play to give the Avalanche a stirring 5-4 win over the Ducks.

With half of the team’s defensemen missing, MacKinnon and Rantanen combined for seven points to carry the comeback. Both potted a pair of goals.

“That’s why they’re elite players,” linemate Evan Rodrigues said. “That’s why this team’s been so successful. You can be having a bad game, or things aren’t going your way for 40, 50 minutes. And then boom, they turn it on.”

The Avs (49-24-6) have won 10 consecutive games away from home and possess a franchise-best road record of 28-11-1 this season. Hidden between those rampant starts and resilient finishes is another trend that found its way back to the forefront on Sunday. Colorado has blown a two-goal lead in four of its last six road games, including three of four games on the California trip that ended in Anaheim.

Yet with a gutsy win aided by 26 penalty minutes against the Ducks, the Avalanche are two points ahead of Dallas for the Central lead with three regular-season games remaining for both teams.

“We want home ice,” MacKinnon said. “We had home ice to the West last season. Obviously, I don’t know if we’ll catch Vegas or not, or whoever finishes first (in the conference), but home ice in our division at least is big for us.”

Why the emphasis on home ice in the playoffs for a team that has excelled more on the road? MacKinnon cites last year’s Stanley Cup run.

“In the playoffs, it’s different,” he said. “I think we’ll be a little better at home.”

MacKinnon has scored the game-winning goal in four of the Avalanche’s last five games. He’s up to 39 on the season, two away from matching a career-high, and 107 points. Since the NHL All-Star break, he has 26 goals and 53 points in 31 games.

Rantanen’s two goals tied Joe Sakic’s single-season record of 54 since the franchise moved to Denver. He also joined MacKinnon with 100 points, making this the first time two Avalanche players have reached 100 in the same season since Sakic and Peter Forsberg in the inaugural 1995-96 season in Colorado.

“When you get down like that, you’re going to start leaning on your top guys more,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “They see more ice. I felt like they had a role to play in us going down, though, as well. On the defensive side of it, they made some mistakes. But to make up for that, they certainly came up huge at the end of the night.”

Rantanen weaved through traffic and created his own backhand for a brilliant first goal that gave the Avs their 2-0 advantage in the second. The lead came crashing down by second intermission, precisely like it did in the second period the previous night 40 minutes north in Los Angeles. Frank Vatrano scored twice, bringing his season total against the Avalanche to five. And the four-goal stretch culminated in an own goal (if it could by credited as such) by Sam Girard, whose body accidentally tapped the puck past Pavel Francouz after Francouz made the initial save.

Francouz allowed two five-hole goals in his first start since Feb. 7, but he also made clutch saves down the stretch to buoy the comeback. Colorado played enough on the power play that the pressure was eased off the Avalanche netminder.

“Even when it was 5-on-5, we were buzzing in the third,” Francouz said. “And in OT (Anaheim) didn’t have any shots. So that was really fun to watch.”

The Avs had a power play sequence that lasted 5:15 in the first period, including 45 seconds of a 5-on-3. They didn’t convert but hit three posts during the elongated attack. It paid off down the stretch as the Ducks were gassed, having spent much of the game on their heels.

“You feel like you wasted some opportunities,” MacKinnon said. “I know we hit some posts, but still, we don’t score in the 5-on-3. So it doesn’t feel very good when they get the lead. And we had to step up. I think that shows mental toughness for our power play.”

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