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Grubauer steals win for Avs, keeps President’s Trophy hopes alive

Philipp Grubauer did what the very best goaltenders do in tough games like Monday’s in Las Vegas — they steal games for their team that they may not have deserved.

The Vegas Golden Knights looked like the better team all night, despite being down three skaters, dressing only five defensemen and starting back goaltender Robin Lehner.

More aggressive and far more physical, the Golden Knights outshot the Avalanche 37-21, won the face-off battle 30-22 and thumped Colorado all night, registering 45 bone-rattling hits. After Vegas’ Alex Pietrangelo opened the scoring, the Avalanche looked flat; something that wasn’t lost on head coach Jared Bednar.

“There’s a lesson to be learned from that game,” he said. “We weren’t ready to compete.”

Fortunately, Grubauer was; keeping the game 1-0 instead of allowing what could have been easily been four or five more goals over the course of the game.

In the second period, Andre Burakovsky tied the game for the Avs. And midway through the third, J.T. Compher would redirect rookie Alex Newhook’s shot past Lehner to give Colorado a lead that felt far more fortunate than earned.

Nevertheless, Grubauer, who stopped all 11 of Vegas’ power-play shots and 36-of-37 overall, made the lead stand up, and the Avalanche claimed their biggest win of the season.

“Without (Grubauer), we don’t have a chance,” Bednar said. “Vegas was more competitive. They won a bulk of the puck battles, played with more pace, had better execution. I didn’t think we executed what we wanted to at all.”

Grubauer, who was inexplicably named only the third star of the game, was more interested in the final result.

“It wasn’t our best game, but it was good to get the win,” he said. “We dialed it up a notch in the last period. We feel pretty comfortable in those tight games. Tonight was a greasy one to finish that road trip.”

The Avalanche now control their destiny; win their final two games at home against Los Angeles, and they’ll not only win the West division, but the President’s Trophy for the league’s best record — and home ice advantage through the length of their promising playoff run.

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NEXT UP: Avalanche (37-13-4, 78 pts) vs. Kings (21-26-7, 49 pts) | Wednesday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. | TV: ESPN+

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NOTES

• Head coach Jared Bednar didn’t mince words regarding his team’s effort level Monday. “What bothered me about tonight’s game is that it looked like we wanted it to be easier than what it was going to be. You can’t be stubborn with the puck, you’ve got to be able to check the same way on the other side of the puck, and you’ve got to find a way to create. We did none of that tonight. That was concerning to me. It’s not something that I’m going to blow out of proportion, but I think there’s a lesson to be learned from that game,” Bednar explained, before emphasizing the positive. “Simple. Goaltending — that was it. That was the only part of our game I liked.”

• Nathan MacKinnon returned to the ice after missing two games due to a lower-body injury, but he didn’t look completely healthy. MacKinnon, who took only two shots on the night and had no points, appeared to be skating sluggishly all night… for him, at least.

• Andre Burakovsky opened the scoring for the Avalanche with his 100th career goal and his 18th of the season. Burakovsky’s on a six-game scoring streak, with nine points (four goals, five assists) over that span.

• The Avalanche didn’t shy away from the more physical Golden Knights. Colorado registered 49 hits; their highest total since they had 51 against the Islanders on Nov. 30, 2015.

• Alex Newhook led the Avs in scoring Monday, assisting on both of Colorado’s goals. Newhook registered his first multi-point game in his fourth NHL outing, and he’s now had three points — all assists — in his brief time with the Avalanche.

• The Avalanche lead the season series with the Kings, 5-1, with Los Angeles’ 4-2 victory coming all the way back on January 21, in what was the fourth game of the season for both teams.

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THE FINAL WORD

“Probably not up to our standards. But we were able to squeak one out. That’s what it’s going to take in the playoffs.” — J.T. Compher, who scored the game-winning goal on Monday

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LAST NIGHT’S LINES

FORWARDS
Top Line: LW Gabriel Landeskog, C Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen
Second Line: LW Valeri Nichushkin, C Tyson Jost, RW Joonas Donskoi
Third Line: LW Nazem Kadri, C Alex Newhook, RW Andre Burakovsky
Fourth Line: LW Carl Soderberg, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, RW J.T. Compher

DEFENSEMEN
Top Pair: LD Devon Toews, RD Cale Makar
Second Pair: LD Ryan Graves, RD Conor Timmins
Third Pair: LD Jacob MacDonald, RD Patrik Nemeth

GOALTENDER
Starter: Philipp Grubauer

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INJURY WATCH

• Devan Dubnyk (COVID-19 protocol) tested positive for the virus and is out from May 3 until at least May 17.
• Samuel Girard (lower-body injury) missed the May 1 game and is expected to miss two weeks. He may be able to return before the end of the regular season.
• Brandon Saad (lower-body injury) was injured on Apr. 24 and is expected to miss two-to-four weeks. He may be able to return for the first round of the playoffs.
• Bowen Byram (upper-body injury) will be out until at least mid-May after suffering a setback.
• Logan O’Connor (lower-body injury) was placed on injured reserve on Apr. 2. He has surgery, and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
• Matt Calvert (upper-body injury) missed the Mar. 31 game and was placed on the injured reserve list on Apr. 11.
• Dennis Gilbert (facial injury, COVID-19 protocol) was placed on injured reserve on Feb. 20. He is expected to be out until at least late March.
• Erik Johnson (upper-body injury) left the Jan. 30 game and has no projected return date. On March 25, coach Jared Bednar suggested that it was possible that Johnson could miss the remainder of the season.
• Pavel Francouz (hip) has yet to play this season and remains on injured reserve. On Apr. 12, the Avalanche ruled him out for the rest of the season following hip surgery.

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Shawn Drotar is the host of “The Fan Late Night with Shawn Drotar;” weeknights from 10:00 p.m. to midnight — only on 104.3 The Fan. Follow him on Twitter at @sdrotar