Avalanche aim to rebound from first loss vs. Panthers

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The Colorado Avalanche, who jumped out to a 5-0-0 start and had scored at least three goals in each game, won’t be in a good mood when they arrive for Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.

Colorado sustained its first loss on Wednesday night after dropping a 3-2 decision in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I don’t think we’re happy with the outcome or how we played,” Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer said. “Maybe this was a reality check.”

Next up for the Avalanche are the Panthers, who are coming off a dramatic 6-4 road win at the New Jersey Devils on Monday.

Florida trailed 4-1 in the second period before scoring five straight goals.

“There was no doubt we were coming back,” Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said. “We had done it the past two games (shootout losses to the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders). We have the weapons to do that.”

The Panthers picked up four points in their just-completed three-game road trip, giving them a boost of confidence for their return home.

“I’ve seen so much character from this team the past few games,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “We’re resilient, and we fight to the end.”

That fight will be tested on Friday by the Avalanche, who have been atop many Western Conference power rankings this season due to their hot start.

Colorado finished last season just one win short of an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The Avalanche then got busy in the summer, making key personnel moves.

Among the holdovers is Grubauer, who turns 28 next month and is in his second season with Colorado. Last season, he went 18-9-5 with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.

This year, he is again proving to be a bargain with a $3.3 million annual contract. He is 4-0-1 with a 2.57 GAA and a .922 save percentage.

Backup Pavel Francouz, a 29-year-old from the Czech Republic, has just three games of NHL experience. He owns a 1-0-0 record this season with a 1.90 GAA and a .944 save percentage.

Colorado’s big star is Nathan MacKinnon, a 24-year-old who was the NHL’s first overall pick in 2013.

MacKinnon recorded career highs in goals (41) and points (99) in 2018-19. He has three goals and six assists this season.

The Avalanche’s top line of MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog combined for 106 goals and 261 points last season.

Colorado’s second line features three newcomers to the team: wingers Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi as well as center Nazem Kadri, and that group so far this season has combined for six goals and 12 points.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are led by team captain Aleksander Barkov and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Barkov became an NHL All-Star last season, getting career highs in goals (35) and assists (61).

Bobrovsky was in the net when the Columbus Blue Jackets engineered a stunning four-game sweep of the reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. After that, Bobrovsky bolted Columbus and signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with Florida.

So far, however, Barkov has five assists and Bobrovsky is 2-2-1 with a 3.90 GAA.

–Field Level Media

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