Mike O’Brien ‘23
Chiefs Sports Editor
In this season’s installment of outdoor games, NHL fans were treated to matchups between the Colorado Avalanche vs. the Vegas Golden Knights and the Boston Bruins vs. the Philadelphia Flyers on beautiful Lake Tahoe.
The Avs and Knights were the first teams to christen the rink on Saturday, February 20th. After the NHL’s realignment of divisions due to the pandemic to decrease travel, the Avalanche, initially in the Central Division, were recently thrust into the West Division, sharing it with Vegas. So although these teams may not have a history of bad blood, especially with Vegas being the newest franchise in the league, perhaps the NHL wanted to schedule a newfound divisional rivalry on the slate to catch the attention of fans out west.
The Avalanche got out to a hot start, after captain Nathan McKinnon slid a neat pass across for a shot by Samuel Girard that beat Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to put Colorado up 1-0 just under three minutes into the game. While McKinnon’s start to the season may be slower than expected, he still sits in the top 25 for points scored on the season, coming in at 22nd with a respectable 18 points.
The Avs continued their strong first period by leading the shots on goal tally by a 7-2 mark with about eight minutes to go. However, Colorado couldn’t extend their lead even with an extended five minute power play that even turned into a 5 on 3 chance after Vegas committed another penalty, but Knights goalie Marc Andre-Fleury denied some superb chances to keep Vegas in it.
However, misfortune struck both teams after the first period. With the combination of the bright Lake Tahoe sun beating down on the ice and other unsuitable rink conditions, the game needed to be postponed by several hours. What originally turned into a Saturday afternoon game eventually turned into a midnight matchup.
After resuming the game and killing off the rest of the Avalanche’s power play to start the 2nd period, the Knights were looking for an equalizer, and that’s what they got from defenseman Alec Martinez, who tucked in a loose puck in front of the net to tie the game at 1-1, scoring his first goal of the season in the process. Although Vegas was being outshot by a staggering 23-8 margin, this was irrelevant as the game was now even.
About four minutes after the Vegas goal, both teams committed penalties leaving the ice more open with a 4 on 4 window of play. As mentioned earlier, although McKinnon may not be off to the hottest start to his season, he’s still lethal at any moment with his combination of speed and skill. Taking the puck from his own blue line, he flew by the Knights’ defense and framed a perfect shot past Fleury to put the Avs back up 2-1.
After the second period waned away, the third started and it took a while for a big moment to come, but when it did, Colorado was yet again rewarded for their high tally of shots on goal. Leading Vegas 34-25 in the department, defenseman Devon Toews rifled a shot from the point past Fleury to make the game 3-1 Colorado with just under seven minutes left in the game.
Vegas would now need quite the large comeback to tie or win the game with time not on their side. But, just over one minute after Colorado’s third goal, Knight’s forward Alex Tuch got the puck in the corner, put on a spin-o-rama move to get past Vegas’ defense, and backhanded the puck into the back of the net to cut the lead down to 3-2. If Vegas were to come back, this was exactly the play they needed to steal back the momentum from Colorado and still have time to equalize the game.
After pulling their goalie to get an extra skater on the attack, Vegas put a last gasp shot on goal with five seconds left in the game which was saved by Colorado goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer and then cleared by the Avalanche to seal the win. With an assist on the first goal of the game and a dazzling goal himself to take back the lead, Nathan McKinnon played extremely well all night, and he’s my player of the game.
Up next on the Tahoe ice was a matchup with a much more storied past; the Boston Bruins up against the Philadelphia Flyers. Similarly to the Avs and Knights, Philadelphia and Boston are both in the East Division this season after playing in the Metropolitan and Atlantic respectively. These two teams have played a whopping 237 times, including 32 postseason matchups.
Going into the game, Boston was arguably the hottest team in the league, only dropping three regular season games, all while doing so without star scorer David Pastrnak to start their season.
Although the Avalanche got out to a fast start vs. the Knights, the Bruins were even faster; just 30 seconds into the game, after blocking a shot, Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron guided a pass to winger Brad Marchand who took the puck along the boards creating a 2 on 1 rush, and slid the puck across to Pastrnak for an easy finish to put the Bruins up 1-0. Not a bad beginning to the game for Boston.
However, Philly didn’t let the early deficit rattle them, as Joel Farabee got the puck right in front of the net after a fortunate bounce off the boards and tucked it by Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask to tie the game at 1-1. Moreover, Philly snagged the lead to go up 2-1 after forward Sean Couturier cleaned up a rebound in front of the net with five minutes to go in the first period. However, this would be their last lead of the night in what ended up being a long night for the Flyers.
Just 40 seconds after Philly went up 2-1, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy blasted a shot from the point which found the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2 after his stick had broken on the previous possession to close out a high scoring first period.
Boston picked up right where they left off to begin the second period, and after circling around the faceoff dot, forward Nick Ritchie found an open David Pastrnak who wristed a shot bar down into the net to put the Bruins back up 3-2 while adding his second goal of the night. The game was played closely up to this point, but Boston went on a scoring tirade to end the second period. With 3:54 left in the period, Charlie Coyle powered a shot off the post and off the back of Carter Hart which trickled past the goal line to put Boston up 4-2. 41 seconds later, 23 year old Trent Frederic scored his first NHL goal on a beautiful glove-side wrist shot to now put Boston up 5-2. Adding insult to injury, Philly committed a penalty moments later to put Boston on the power play, and Nick Ritchie scored after providing an earlier assist to give the Bruins a 6-2 lead. After playing the Flyers close, the Bruins scored three goals in 99 seconds to make the game a blowout before the third period began.
To their credit, Philly wasn’t ready to kneel over without scoring one more goal. On the power play, forward James van Riemsdyk redirected a shot from Kevin Hayes which took an unfortunate bounce off Bruins’ defenseman Urho Vaakanainen’s skate past Rask to trim the lead to 6-3 with a little under seven minutes to go in the period. But, Boston probably wasn’t satisfied with just winning by three. With just three minutes left in the game, Philly’s sloppy play continued when they turned it over in their own zone right to 22 year old forward Jack Studnicka who found David Pastrnak, scoring a nifty one-timer off the pass to put Boston up 7-3 with authority while scoring a hat trick in the process.
Boston’s entire offense was firing on all cylinders, but David “Pasta” Pastrnak is my player of the game for both his impressive hat trick and his pre-game style.