CALGARY, Alberta — Valeri Nichushkin scored two power-play goals and Darcy Keumper stopped 44 shots as the Colorado Avalanche edged the Calgary Flames 2-1 Tuesday night in a matchup of Western Conference division leaders.
“Gutsy win by our group,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I thought our team was highly committed on the defensive side of things.
“Power play steps up at the end gets us a big win.”
Central Division-leading Colorado (47-14-6) won the season series 2-1. The Avalanche did so without Nathan MacKinnon (lower body), their leading scorer who was hurt in a third-period fight with Minnesota’s Matt Dumba on Sunday.
Nazem Kadri took MacKinnon’s spot on the Avs’ top line with Nichuskin and Mikko Rantanen. After going winless in his two previous starts, Kuemper improved to 31-9-3.
“Definitely a credit to the depth of the team,” Kuemper said. “The willingness and ability for guys to step up their game and make up for the guys that are missing.”
Tyler Toffoli scored for Pacific Division-leading Calgary (40-18-8). Jacob Markstrom (31-13-7) stopped 28 shots. The Flames are 2-2-0 on a six-game homestand that continues Thursday against Los Angeles. The Kings are second in the Pacific, seven points behind the Flames.
With the score tied 1-1, Colorado capitalized on a tripping penalty to Elias Lindholm halfway through the third period. Mikko Rantanen spotted Nichushkin in front and sent a perfect pass across the slot that Nichushkin steered behind Markstrom.
Colorado’s power play has been lethal of late. The unit converted 2 of 3 chances and moved to 15 for 36 over the Avalanche’s last 12 games (41.7%).
“Power play, we need them to step up,” Bednar said. “It’s going to be tight.
“That’s how it works down the stretch and into the playoffs. It’s hard to find space and create scoring chances 5 on 5 and when you get one or two (power plays), you’ve got to try to capitalize on them.”
Calgary’s penalty kill struggled for a second straight game. The Flames have surrendered five power-play goals in their last two games.
“That’s two games with very soft, individual mistakes,” Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. “First one tonight, puck should go down the ice, forwards had two cracks at it.
“The second is just a straight read by the defenseman. Those are mental mistakes. Very simple.”
Mikael Backlund, part of the Flames’ top penalty-kill pairing up front, said it’s up to Calgary to rebound next game.
“We know it can be better,” he said. “And we know we’ve been really solid all year.
”We’ve had one or two games during the year where similar to this, we let too many in, and we rebounded and we play really solid after that.”
Chris Tanev said the Flames must get back to working harder.
“We were killing well until obviously letting three goals in a period against Edmonton and tonight was all special teams and they got two and we got one and that was the difference in the game,” Tanev said. “We’ve got to bear down on our clears, on our entries, and back to outworking PPs that are out there.”
Calgary entered the game 4 for 12 with a man advantage in the previous four games. But the Flames could only convert one of six chances against Colorado, including two opportunities in seven minutes of the third, both on Kadri penalties. The latter came with 16 seconds remaining.
The Flames opened the scoring at 9:31 of the second, capitalizing on a two-man advantage. They secured the 5-on-3 when Nichushkin got his stick into the hands of Rasmus Andersson 18 seconds into the first power play.
The Flames controlled possession, but weren’t able to generate any good chances initially. But eventually Andersson sent a pass across that Toffoli one-timed inside the goalpost from 30 feet.
Matthew Tkachuk also assisted on the goal, giving him 12 points (four goals, eight assists) during a five-game point streak.
The lead lasted less than five minutes as the Avalanche responded with a power-play goal. With Milan Lucic off for interference, Colorado tied it at 13:46 when Cale Makar’s shot deflected in off Nichushkin, who was screening Markstrom.
NOTES: Sean Monahan returned to the lineup for Calgary after being a healthy scratch the last two games. … Trade deadline acquisition Arturri Lehkonen made his debut for the Avs. He centered a line with Andre Burakovsky and Alex Newhook. … Colorado D Samuel Girard (lower body) missed his ninth game. He is back skating now.
Colorado: Host San Jose Sharks on Thursday.
Calgary: Host Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
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