DENVER (AP) — Gabriel Landeskog found an early way to calm down the Colorado Avalanche — he dropped the gloves and brawled.
That fighting spirit energized a roaring crowd — biggest of the season — and certainly rubbed off on the team.
Nathan MacKinnon scored the tiebreaking goal 30 seconds into the third period and wrapped it up with an empty-netter, Philipp Grubauer stopped 22 shots and the Avalanche beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Monday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“We’re skilled and fast, but I also think we’re a tough team,” Landeskog said. “I thought we showed that tonight.”
Landeskog recorded a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a goal, assist and a fighting major, which he earned in the first period by sticking up for a teammate following a big hit.
It breathed some energy into the Avalanche.
“We were kind of tiptoeing our way into it a little bit,” Landeskog said. “I thought that was going to calm us down a little bit and get the crowd into it.”
Landeskog added a third-period goal by tipping in a blue-line blast from MacKinnon and an assist on MacKinnon’s empty-netter. Cale Makar got things started for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche with a power-play goal in the first period.
Game 2 is Wednesday.
Jordan Kyrou scored his first postseason goal for a Blues team missing leading scorer David Perron, who’s out due to the NHL’s virus protocols.
Colorado kept Jordan Binnington busy through the first two periods, outshooting the Blues by a 32-16 margin. They finally were able to solve him in the third with MacKinnon leading the way.
Binnington finished with 46 saves.
“If it wasn’t for Binner it could have been messy early,” said Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly, who once played for Colorado. “They were, by far, the better team tonight.”
MacKinnon showed no signs of rust after missing four of the last five games with a lower-body injury. His three-point night gives the speedy forward 22 goals and 35 assists in 41 career playoff games.
His 1.39 points-per-game average is the fourth-highest in Stanley Cup playoff history (minimum 25 games). He trails only Wayne Gretzky (1.84), Mario Lemieux (1.61) and Barry Pederson (1.53).
Grubauer was sensational all game. He’s coming off a regular season in which he won a career-best 30 games.
Kyrou tied the game at 1-all with 3:29 remaining in the second period.
Binnington made an astonishing stop in the second while down on the ice and with the puck on the stick of Mikko Rantanen down low. Rantanen tried to lift it over Binnington, who raised his left pad just in time to deflect Rantanen’s shot.
Moments later at the other end, Mike Hoffman had an open net on a wrap-around, only to have defenseman Ryan Graves slide over and poke the puck away with his stick.
Makar scored a power-play goal late in the first period as the young defenseman picked up where he left off last postseason. In 2020, Makar had 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) over 15 playoff games.
Midway through the first, there was the all-out brawl between Blues forward Brayden Schenn and Landeskog. The catalyst was an open-ice collision by Schenn on Rantanen that drew the wrath of Landeskog.
“I don’t think it was a dirty play,” Landeskog said. “Just have to stand up for my teammates.”
There was a another skirmish after the final horn.
“I didn’t like that shot on O’Reilly at the end of the game from behind,” Blues coach Craig Berube explained. “That should be looked at. That’s a cheap shot in my opinion and a dirty play.”
Before leaving the ice, Binnington skated into the Avalanche zone. He was stopped by an official.
“He can do whatever he wants,” Landeskog said. “He’s not going to get to us. He’s not going to get to Grubi.”
The tension could be high all series after the Blues and Avalanche faced each other eight times in the regular season. Colorado won the season series 5-3.
Vladimir Tarasenko returned from a lower-body injury that sidelined him for six games and nearly made an immediate impact. His snap shot early in the game clanged off the right post.
The odds of the Blues capturing the Stanley Cup are +4100, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Avalanche check in as a +450 favorite.
It felt and sounded like a full house inside Ball Arena, with the facility recently being approved to increase capacity to 42.3%. The attendance was listed at 7,741.
THIS & THAT
Avs F Alex Newhook made his NHL playoff debut. … Rantanen had two assists.