Avalanche moves within one game of Cup Finals, defeats Edmonton 4-2

EDMONTON, Alberta — The commitment to its “next-man-up” philosophy helped the Avalanche get within a victory of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals here Saturday night.

J.T. Compher replaced the injured Nazem Kadri as Colorado’s second-line center and came through with the most important goal of Game 3 against Edmonton in the Western Conference Finals at Rogers Place.

Compher jumped out of the penalty box, won a puck battle on the Oilers’ blue line, and wristed a shot past goalie Mike Smith to break a 2-2 tie with 7:18 remaining in the third period. Mikko Rantanen added an empty-net goal in the final minute for a 4-2 victory and 3-0 series lead.

“Definitely a roller coaster — not a good time to take a penalty,” Compher said of his tripping minor. “Unbelievable job by our penalty kill, by Frankie. (I went) from from the lowest in the box, waiting (to get released), and then able to get one and that’s the highest for sure.”

Colorado improved to 6-0 on the road in the playoffs, the first team since the 2011 Kings to win its first six road playoff games. Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night. An Avs victory will send them to their first Stanley Cup Final since last winning it all in 2002.

But they move on without Kadri, the victim of a vicious hit from behind by Edmonton winger Evander Kane.

“He’s out. He’ll be out for the series at least, if not longer,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Kadri. “The hit — it’s the most dangerous play in hockey. He puts him in (the wall) headfirst from behind, eight feet off the boards. I’ll leave it at that.”

Compher’s big goal was his fifth in his last five games after he failed to score in his first nine games of the postseason. And it came a minute after goalie Pavel Francouz stoned Edmonton superstar center Connor McDavid with a diving glove save on the power play.

“I thought Frankie was outstanding,” Bednar said of the Francouz. “The one that you don’t want to see go in would be the tying (2-2) goal from distance off the rush. But he more than made up for that at points during the game, at key times to keep us in the lead … He battles in there and he got us the win.”

The Avalanche lost Kadri early in the first period to an upper-body injury when he was checked from behind into the boards in the defensive-end corner by Kane. It came on the shift after McDavid gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead on his first shift and resulted in Kane’s five-minute boarding major.

“I definitely did not like the hit,” Avs captain Gabe Landeskog. “It doesn’t look good and those are the scary ones you never like to see.”

The Avs failed to capitalize on the power play and finished 0-of-5 with the man-advantage. But Colorado still generated enough offense.

Valeri Nichushkin scored twice for the Avs, with his second goal giving Colorado a 2-1 lead 4:37 into the second period. His shot from the right circle fooled Smith because the puck skipped off the leg of Edmonton defenseman Evan Bouchard and changed direction.

Edmonton forward Ryan McLeod tied the score 2-2 with a long wrist shot midway through the third period — the one shot Francouz would want back.

“The guys did a good job of resetting after they tied it up,” Landeskog said.

The game was tied 1-1 after the first period during which the Avs failed to convert during seven minutes of the man-advantage but got a fluky goal from Nichushkin late in the frame. Nichushkin’s pass/shot towards the net caromed off the stick of defenseman Darnell Nurse and behind Smith.

After Kadri skated off and walked to the dressing room, Edmonton killed off Kane’s boarding major and then a delay-of-game minor against Nurse. Smith was the difference in the first period, making several outstanding saves to keep the Oilers ahead 1-0 until Nichushkin’s fortunate bounce.

Edmonton gained its lead on the first shift of the game when McDavid took a short pass from Zach Hyman near the left wall and snapped a low shot past Francouz. But that was the only time the Avs would hear from McDavid.

Avs’ star defenseman Cale Makar said a big key was keeping the Oilers’ stars from shining.

“For us, it’s just about trying to keep them in front of us,” Makar said. “Obviously we have some good speed on the back end and sometimes, we want to challenge. But they have a lot of incredible speed and we have to make sure we’re keying on the right guys and not giving them options.”

Of Game 4 Monday night, Landeskog said, “The job is not finished. We have a lot of work to do.”

First-line center Nathan MacKinnon, who had five shots and a plus-2 rating, said the Avs’ 6-0 road record in the postseason is the product of trying to play “boring and gross.”

“We have five guys connected offensively and defensively and you don’t got to please anybody,” he said. “We’re here to hopefully make it boring and gross and just play a good two-way game. There’s no show to put on when we’re on the road and it kind of feels like we’re just playing the right way.”

Footnotes. Forward Brad Malone was inserted into the Oilers’ lineup and played in his first NHL playoff game since 2014 when he was with the Avs. Edmonton scratched forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Josh Archibald and went with just 11 forwards and an extra defenseman (Kris Russell). … MacKinnon entered Game 3 with 10 goals, the first Avalanche player to reach 10 postseason goals since Joe Sakic and Chris Drury had 13 and 11, respectively, in 2001.

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