DENVER â€” This is exactly how Mikko Rantanen and the Colorado Avalanche envisioned playing all season.
Of course, it’s way too late by now.
Rantanen scored three times for his first career hat trick, Calvin Pickard stopped 27 shots and last-place Colorado beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 on Tuesday night.
Andreas Martinsen added a goal as the Avalanche posted back-to-back wins for the first time since November. Even more, it’s the first time all season they’ve won two straight at home.
“We’re playing like how we should have played the last 30 games,” Rantanen said. “We were sharp tonight and we played a solid 60 minutes.”
Pickard picked up his second shutout of the season, withstanding a late flurry at the end. He also had an assist.
All-Star goaltender Carey Price was off his game early, giving up two quick goals, and the Canadiens never recovered. This after routing Colorado 10-1 on Dec. 10 in Montreal.
After that debacle, the Canadiens knew the Avalanche wouldn’t forget and would come out with something to prove the next time the teams met. Montreal simply couldn’t answer.
“We didn’t weather it early. Right from the puck drop to the end we weren’t very good,” said Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, who played in his 200th NHL game. “We all hold ourselves accountable. It’s a good time for all of us to look in the mirror right now.”
The Atlantic Division leaders dropped to 1-4-1 over their last six games.
“Every team goes through tough stretches,” said Price, who has three wins in his last 12 appearances. “It’s important that we continue to have fun and not dwell on things when they’re not going well. It always seems to be the recipe to get out of funks. It’s what we’re going to use.”
His coach was more succinct.
“We all have to do better,” Michel Therrien said. “Just a disappointing night.”
Rantanen finished off his hat trick at 6:01 of the third period when he scored on a 5-on-3 advantage. The crowd tossed a few hats onto the ice in celebration.
The 20-year-old Rantanen made it 3-0 at 13:10 of the second when he tipped in a shot from defenceman Mark Barberio, just recently claimed off waivers from Montreal. Before the move, Barberio spent the season shuffling between the Canadiens and their American Hockey League affiliate.
“As good of a team as Montreal is â€” they’re very good defensively and they have the best goalie in the league â€” so it was a great start,” Rantanen said.
Amid trade rumours, the Avalanche played one of their best periods of the season, scoring twice in a 1:55 span during the first. Rantanen scored on a hard shot from the right side 30 seconds into the game and Martinsen added another on a play set up by an assist from Pickard.
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene have been constantly mentioned in trade speculation with the team well out of the playoff picture. First-year coach Jared Bednar is trying to keep it out of the locker room â€” and his players’ heads.
Although, he doesn’t expect the rumours to quiet down.
“When you’re sitting where we are, it’s part of the game,” Bednar said. “It’s a couple wins for us that we’re really happy to have, especially with the way our team has been playing. But I don’t think it’s going to do anything with those rumours.”
NOTES: Montreal was 0 for 5 on the power play. … Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla appeared in his 1,524th game, tying Brendan Shanahan for 14th place on the career list. … D Tyson Barrie (lower body) and forward Rene Bourque (head) remain sidelined. … D Erik Johnson (broken leg) is skating, but there is no timetable for his return. He was hurt Dec. 3 while blocking a shot against Dallas. … LW Matt Nieto limped to the locker room favouring his right leg after blocking a shot in the third period. … Nathan MacKinnon, Barberio and Landeskog each had two assists.
Canadiens: At the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.
Avalanche: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
Pat Graham, The Associated Press