The two greatest words in hockey were said Wednesday evening. No, they aren’t ‘Michael’ and ‘Hutchinson’, but rather ‘Game’ and ‘Seven’. Fans of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will finally get to see a Game 7, as the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars will meet Friday evening in a winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home scenario.
After watching the Stars jump ahead to a 3-1 series lead following an injury to starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer, Colorado then watched backup netminder Pavel Francouz also go down injured. With their respective backs against the wall, the Avalanche turned to former Winnipeg Jet goalie Michael Hutchinson – whom the team brought into the bubble as its third-string tendy – to help lead the offensive juggernaut to the promised land of milk and honey.
Hutchinson, 30, who was thrown into the spotlight rather fast, has done his absolute best to keep the Avs relevant. Actually, he has done so much more than help extend the postseason for head coach Jared Bednar and the boys from the Mile High City. As a division leader, the Avalanche had the option of coming in raw, blaming the lack of a starting goaltender for a poor offensive display and bowing out early to the Stars. However, with Hutchinson at the helm, a renewed sense of calmness has asserted itself into Colorado’s lineup, and in turn helped the seasoned backstop to do something only six others before him have done.
On Wednesday evening, Hutchinson became just the seventh goaltender all-time in NHL history to have his first and second career playoff victories come in potential elimination games. Interestingly enough, he joined former goaltending coach with the Winnipeg Jets Wade Flaherty on the list. Alongside Hutchinson and Flaherty are: Jacques Plante, Robbie Moore, Frank Pietrangelo, Manny Fernandez and Michael Leighton.
After allowing the first goal of the game on a soft dribbler from Stars’ defenceman Miro Heiskanen near the end of the opening frame, Hutchinson bounced back, stopping every puck he faced in the second and third periods. He turned aside 27 of 28 shots and held on for his second-straight victory, in just his second Stanley Cup Playoffs start.
Led by usual suspects Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar offensively, the Avalanche scored shortly after Heiskanen’s strike, before adding another goal midway through the second and third, and a MacKinnon empty-netter to seal the deal.
Now having battled back from a 3-1 series deficit, the pressure remains on the Avalanche to complete the comeback and send Dallas packing. With the excitement of the first Game 7 in this year’s playoff season set to see puck drop Friday evening, both the Stars and Avalanche are expected to put their best foot forward in hopes of moving on to the Western Conference Final.