CALGARY – Nathan MacKinnon scored 8:27 into overtime as the Colorado Avalanche tied their first-round series with the Calgary Flames at a game apiece with a 3-2 win on Saturday night.
After Philipp Grubauer stopped Michael Frolik at one end, the puck went up ice where a pass from Mikko Rantanen sprung MacKinnon down the left wing and he fired a shot into the top corner on Mike Smith.
“Mikko and I tried to get ahead of their (forward) that was on me. I got a step and Mikko made a great pass. A little saucer pass,” said MacKinnon. “I managed to get another step on that weak-side D to get a shot off and I put it where I wanted to.”
Smith gave MacKinnon full credit for the winning goal.
“The guy’s a world-class player,” said Smith. “If you give him too many open looks, he’s going to find a way to get one past you, sooner or later. He ripped that one pretty good there. Obviously, you’d like to get a piece of it, but it is what it is.”
Matt Nieto and J.T. Compher also scored for the Avalanche.
Rasmus Andersson and Sean Monahan replied for the Flames.
The series continues on Monday night with Game 3 at the Pepsi Center in Colorado.
Smith finished with 36 stops. Grubauer had 35 saves.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar says his team could easily be down two games if it wasn’t for Grubauer’s performance.
“First of all, (Grubauer) makes the save and it’s a big save because of the time and the score and you’re in overtime and he made a lot of big saves tonight, as did Smith, but to give us that save at that time… Then we get up the ice and (Rantanan) and (MacKinnon) execute unbelievably and we get the goal,” said Bednar.
In some late dramatics, Colorado tied it 2-2 at 17:21 of the third period on Compher’s first career playoff goal, the result of some fortuitous bouncing of the puck.
Rantanen’s cross-ice pass banked off the skate of Gabriel Landeskog, then off both skates of Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic, before Compher shovelled a backhand over a sprawled Smith.
Monahan had given Calgary its first lead of the night at 12:27 of the third on some similar puck luck.
After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, Monahan went to the front of the net. Johnny Gaudreau’s initial shot didn’t get through to the net, nor did Sam Bennett’s shot attempt right after, but Monahan’s third try went into the top corner, over the glove of Grubauer.
The Avs were the better team most of the night, especially in a scoreless first period, outshooting Calgary 15-10 and taking it to the Flames physically.
But like in Game 1 when he posted a 26-save shutout, Smith was excellent once again.
The best Avs chance in the opening 20 minutes was Landeskog’s breakaway off a TJ Brodie giveaway, in which Smith denied him when he tried to go five-hole.
In the third period with the score 1-1, Smith stared down Landeskog again on a breakaway and again denied him, this time with a blocker save. Chants of “Smitty, Smitty, Smitty” were heard throughout the night from the crowd just like in the series opener.
In a second period of momentum swings, Calgary tied it 1-1 at 12:26 on Andersson’s first career playoff goal.
On a power play, Bennett backed out front from behind the net before zipping a no-look backhand pass across to Andersson, who had an empty net.
The man advantage was the result of a Derick Brassard offensive zone tripping penalty, which came after a stretch of sustained pressure by the Avs in the Flames end.
Nieto gave the Avs their first goal of the series when he stripped the puck from Brodie at Colorado’s blueline and raced away on a breakaway, picking the top corner over Smith’s glove.
Notes: Calgary went 1 for 5 on the power play while the Avs power play, which ranked No. 7 in the regular season, went 0 for 4 to fall to 0 for 8 in the post-season… Both teams iced identical lineups from Game 1… Smith entered the game with a career .947 save percentage in the playoffs, making him the NHL’s all-time leader.