Seven years can take a toll on a relationship, but the spark is still there between Nathan MacKinnon and Jared Bednar.
“If he was painful or annoying, who knows?” MacKinnon said Tuesday morning. “But it’s easy. He actually will talk with you about other things besides the neutral zone forecheck.”
MacKinnon reached a milestone Tuesday to help Bednar reach his. The prolific Avalanche center’s 700th career point gave Colorado the first goal in Bednar’s 500th game as an NHL coach, which also turned out to be the night he passed Michel Bergeron as the franchise’s winningest. Bednar’s No. 266 was a 3-2 barn-burner over the Capitals at Ball Arena.
Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves — including potentially his best of the season — to shepherd Colorado to a sixth consecutive win despite being outshot by 12. With Minnesota’s coinciding loss, the Avs (26-17-3) catapulted into third place in the Central, stationing themselves in a divisional playoff spot for the first time this calendar year.
They haven’t trailed at any point during the win streak, but Bednar struck a different tone after this one.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t willing to work, but we got lazy at times I felt like,” he said. “And then just reads and focus. It looked like we were mentally tired.”
Georgiev’s counterpart, former Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper, vacated the bench for the last two minutes of a suspenseful third period in which the Caps outshout Colorado 15-3. Georgiev made magnificent saves throughout the night, but the finest came with 1:15 left. Blinded by traffic and Washington moved the puck, he lunged across the crease and seemingly deflected Filip Gustavsson’s shot with his noggin.
Georgiev ended up sprawled on the ice as play continued.
“I knew the guy was in the slot, so dangerous play,” he said. “Tried to stretch and put my body in there,” he said.
“He kind of — I don’t want to say stole us the game,” Bednar said. “It was pretty even for a while. But I didn’t love our performance as a team, and he was the one that was able to secure the win for us.”
Seeming surprised to be asked where the save ranks among his best, Georgiev said he hasn’t watched the replay yet, but that “maybe I need to check that.”
Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano and Alex Newhook scored the goals. MacKinnon became the first player of the 2013 NHL Draft class to reach 700 points. Nobody else from that class has 600.
He reached the landmark in typical relentless fashion. As Washington’s Dmitry Orlov attempted to take out MacKinnon during a 2-on-1, he absorbed the heavy contact, extended his stick and tapped the puck to Lehkonen for a clean finish. It was Lehkonen’s sixth goal in the last six games and 14th of the season.
Nathan MacKinnon (29) of the Colorado Avalanche shoots against the Washington Capitals during the first period at Ball Arena in Denver on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Washington twice closed the deficit to one goal. The first time, Newhook answered with one of the most skilled individual plays of his burgeoning career, a true first-round pick’s game-winning goal. He turned on the jets entering the offensive zone for a brief display of MacKinnon-esque speed, while navigating the puck to his left-hand side for a far-post finish with 4:21 left in the second.
Moved back to center lately, Newhook has four goals and six points in the last six games — his hottest stretch of the season.
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Youth was met with vast experience in the third period. Alex Ovechkin, a game-time decision after missing Washington’s last game, was fed the puck in his office. It was mano-a-mano with Georgiev, who knew the shot was coming but still couldn’t stop the 37-year-old’s patented power from the faceoff circle. Ovechkin and Newhook have now combined for 835 career goals (811 of which belong to Ovechkin).
After Georgiev’s shutout in Washington earlier this season, he brought up his bad history against Ovechkin as self-motivation. More than anything that night, he was pleased to avoid conceding against the NHL icon. Ovechkin’s goal Tuesday was his ninth in 22 shots against Georgiev.
Georgiev has the lowest save percentage (.591) of any goalie who has faced the “Great 8” four or more times. Doesn’t matter when you get the last laugh, though, right?
“I mean, I would’ve liked to not give that up,” a wry Georgiev said. “But it is what it is. We got the win. That’s most important here.”
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