Jordan Binnington turned in a jaw-dropping performance, but not even the Herculean effort of the St. Louis Blues netminder was enough to prevent Josh Manson from playing the role of unlikely overtime hero.
And just like that, one of the acquisitions made by Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic prior to the arrival of the NHL trade deadline was there to step up when his team needed an offensive boost in a game where Binnington was the biggest reason this ended up being a nail-biter instead of a potential blowout.
Manson, who was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for defence prospect Drew Helleson and a second-round draft pick in 2023 on March 14, provided one of those memorable moments that last a lifetime. Walking across the offensive blue line and showing great patience, Manson waited for a seam to open up ever so slightly before his seeing-eye shot through traffic found its way to the back of the net at 8:02 of the first overtime on Tuesday in the opener of a Western Conference semifinal.
“Yeah, I think so. It’s got to be,” Manson told reporters in Denver when asked if this goal was the biggest moment in his eight-year NHL career. “My first playoff goal. Overtime winner. It was great. It’s not about the way I feel, it’s the way the whole team feels coming at me (after he scored). That’s the best part.”
Game 2 is set for Thursday night at Ball Arena.
On the winner, several Blues players were trying to get into the shot lane along with Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog, who got the puck up to Manson at the point and then provided an essential screen on the play.
“(Manson) had a nice pump fake up top first that he doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for, but that was real nice,” Landeskog said. “He got their forward to bite and was able to get a shooting lane. From that point, I’m trying to stand in front and move out (of the way) at the last second. It happens so fast, but there’s a certain sound, I guess. There’s no sound, because it’s soft hitting the net and then you just hear the crowd erupting. It’s an exciting feeling, for sure, in overtime.”
The Blues got on the board first on a goal from Ryan O’Reilly, but the Avalanche found another level in the second period to take a 2-1 advantage after goals from Valeri Nichushkin and Sam Girard, who is Manson’s defence partner.
Getting offence from the back end is something the Avalanche are accustomed to, but on this night, the headliners — Norris candidate Cale Makar and partner Devon Toews — were mostly held in check offensively.
However, each member of that second pairing managed to score.
“This team has done it all year. The defence has contributed all year and that’s part of this team’s identity,” said Manson. “Obviously, if you’re getting D scoring, it helps you win games.”
Girard was also a force at both ends of the ice, finishing with seven shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, four blocked shots and two hits.
It’s fair to say that Manson’s transition to the Avalanche after the trade included some bumpy moments, but he’s battled through them and is elevating his game at the perfect time.
“He was fantastic. If you watch his defending, he was heavy and he was good with the puck, his gaps were great. He played his butt off all night long. He played the right way all night and eventually, he gets an opportunity to put the puck in the back of the net. A great goal on a great shift. I’m glad to see him rewarded,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said. “He’s gotten better and better since he’s been with us. If you talk to Josh about his arrival here and the differences in our structure and the way that we play and the things that we stress. It’s not right or wrong, but he’s been there (in Anaheim) for a long time and playing the same way.
“He was thinking too much. He’s a real inquisitive guy and likes to be coached and he wants to see things. He comes in (to the coach’s office) all the time and he wants to be real clear on things. It’s part of what makes him good. The structure in his game is part of what makes him so successful and as he’s got more clear on that, he’s become more dangerous offensively and he’s become a better defender for us and he’s a relied upon guy. Now we’re seeing exactly why we did get him and it was a much-needed piece for us.”
Thanks to Binnington, the Blues managed to hang around long enough for Jordan Kyrou to even the score on a power-play marker that came on a poor line change by the Avalanche with 3:14 to go in regulation.
“We were right there, you’re one shot away in OT. That’s the bottom line,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said. “We’ll regroup and get ready for Game 2. We’ll be better next game. We need more guys to perform. That’s really what it boils down to and again, we’ve got to make more plays with the puck.”
The late goal against didn’t bother the Avalanche one bit and neither did an inability to cash in on a late power play that stretched into the opening 41 seconds of the fourth period.
During the overtime session, the Avalanche held a lopsided 13-0 edge in shots on goal, finishing with a 54-25 edge in that department while firing 106 shot attempts at Binnington while allowing only 45.
“The reality is, sometimes you’re going to play really well and you feel like you deserve to win, but you don’t,” said Landeskog, who finished with two assists. “We were a real resilient group in there. Their goalie played really well for them. He made some saves that we felt like we had empty nets and he stuck a leg out or a hand out or whatever. But in overtime, we had just stressed to keep playing and to keep doing what we were doing. We were creating a lot and it was just a matter of time.”
For all of the talk about the Blues’ championship pedigree being something they can lean on in this series even when things aren’t going smoothly, Tuesday’s effort was another important step in the building process for the Avalanche — who have won five consecutive games to start these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“All the experiences that you go through during the year, they remember when you’re down and coming back, they remember when you lose the lead. That’s what the regular season is for, it teaches you how to win,” said Bednar. “But you have be in tune and focused. Belief is really what drives it. Our guys have a really good understanding and No. 1, they have a belief in what we do.
“If you have that and you keep working at it, you don’t get rattled by ebbs and flows in a game or bad bounces and you’re going to continue to do what makes you successful.”