Varlamov stops 51 shots, Avs bounce back to beat Leafs 3-1
TORONTO — A night after a most deflating defeat, the Colorado Avalanche didn’t exactly take out their frustrations on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
No, they just got a stellar effort from their Russian goaltender.
Semyon Varlamov made 51 saves, helping Colorado rebound from a miserable loss with a 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Sunday night.
The Avs fell 10-1 to Montreal on Saturday, allowing 10 goals in a game for the first time since moving from Quebec for the 1995 season.
“It was embarrassing,” top-line center Nathan MacKinnon said. “Hockey Night in Canada, losing 10-1, it was horrible. I think we all wanted to crawl into a hole.”
The laughable loss didn’t exactly spark the Avs, though. The Leafs had 16 of the first 19 shots, hogging the puck in the Colorado zone shift after shift. The Leafs couldn’t break through, however, largely due to the efforts of Varlamov. The netminder, who gave up six goals in the loss to Montreal, was stellar in stopping all 21 first-period shots, a season high this year for the Leafs.
“We needed a bounce back today,” Varlamov said. “It’s always hard to forget the bad games, but we’re all professional and we have to move on quick and then focus on the next day.”
Mikko Rantanen, MacKinnon and Blake Comeau scored, helping last-place Colorado get its second win in nine games.
“It could be a blessing,” MacKinnon said of the 10-1 defeat. “You never know. It could be a turning point in our season that we need to wake up.”
Antoine Bibeau made 26 saves in his first NHL start, and Jake Gardiner scored for Toronto.
The Leafs, who won 4-1 in Boston on Saturday, are now 0-5-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this season.
Notable in the early going for Toronto was Mitch Marner’s brief drop to the fourth line. Among the leading rookie scorers, the 19-year-old has cooled of late, totaling just three assists (no goals) in nine games before Sunday.
He was reunited with usual linemates James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak in the second and added a late assist on Gardiner’s power-play goal.
“I think there’s been a message going on for a bit,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “It doesn’t go your way all the time, but you’ve got to work hard every single day.”
The Avs got on the board first with Rantanen’s fourth goal this season. Bibeau had trouble with Jarome Iginla’s initial one-time attempt on the Colorado power play, and Matt Duchene grabbed the rebound in front before finding Rantanen with a backhand pass. The 20-year-old fired into a largely empty cage, Bibeau’s left skate locking with teammate Matt Hunwick’s right skate as he scrambled to get over.
The 22-year-old was making his first NHL start after a so-so beginning to the American Hockey League season. Superb in October, during which he was named the league’s goalie of the month, Bibeau dropped off and lost his final five starts before being recalled to replace Jhonas Enroth as Frederik Andersen’s backup.
Bibeau had to come up big after the Leafs failed to score on their third power play of the game. The 6-foot-3 netminder shut down a 2-on-1 opportunity between Avalanche forwards John Mitchell and Gabriel Landeskog, then stopped tough guy Cody McLeod during another Colorado rush.
The action turned chippy with less than eight minutes left in the second period when Matt Martin dumped Andreas Martinsen along the boards in the Colorado end. Nikita Zadarov, a 6-5, 230-pound defender, took exception to the hit and proceeded to fight with the 6-3, 220-pound Martin.
MacKinnon upped the lead to 2-0 in the third. High sticked by Leafs forward Leo Komarov as he came through the neutral zone, MacKinnon blew right past the Toronto defense and beat Bibeau for his eighth goal of the season and third in the last four games.
Komarov drew a double-minor for his foul, though the Leafs managed to hold the Avalanche off the board.
Toronto’s power play, which scored only once in the previous five games, finally broke through in the waning minutes of regulation when Gardiner beat Varlamov with a one-time blast. That brought the Leafs to within one, but Comeau iced it with an empty netter just over a minute later.
NOTES: Overall shot attempts were 99-52 in favor of Toronto.
Avalanche: Host the Flyers on Wednesday night.
Maple Leafs: Host the Sharks on Tuesday night.