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Avalanche, Penguins prepare to put on another show

Apr 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher (37) look to linesman Andrew Smith (51) before a face off in the first period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the only thing better than two of the NHL’s better teams putting on a strong display during a game is for them to do it again.

That’s the stage set for Tuesday night when the Colorado Avalanche (49-14-6, 104 points) visit the Pittsburgh Penguins (41-19-10, 92 points) to finish a home-and-home set.

Pittsburgh twice scored tying goals Saturday, only to have Colorado come back on the ensuing shift to restore its one-goal lead en route to a 3-2 win in Denver.

The teams matched skill, discipline — there was just one power play — and intensity, to the point that Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said there was just one thing he would change in Tuesday’s rematch.

“The result,” he said.

Devon Toews’ third-period goal stood as the winner for the Avs.

“It was just a really good hockey game,” Sullivan said. “It was a real competitive hockey game. Just a good game on both sides. The pace of play was really high. There was physicality. There’s a lot of skill on both sides.”

Pittsburgh is 5-4-1 in its past 10 games but remains solidly in position to make the playoffs and perhaps earn home ice.

The Penguins would be happy to replicate the type of game they played against the Avalanche, and not just on Tuesday.

“We’re playing good hockey,” said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who scored Saturday. “(These) are two teams that are playing really well. I thought, for the most part, our game was pretty solid on both sides of the puck.”

The Penguins had several strong scoring chances and 40 shots.

“We generated really quality chances. Unfortunately, not enough went in,” Crosby said. “We knew they were a dangerous team.”

But the quality of their overall game left the Penguins feeling pretty good.

“I think we probably deserved to win that one,” said Pittsburgh defenseman Mike Matheson, who also scored. “Right now they’re looking like the best team in the league … so it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is two assists shy of becoming the sixth active player to reach 700 for his career.

Colorado doesn’t just “look like” the top team in the NHL — it is. The Avalanche began this week two points ahead of the Eastern Conference-leading Florida Panthers (48-15-6, 102 points).

Saturday, with 38 shots, the Avs got one more to go in than Pittsburgh to improve to 8-1-1 in their past 10 games, including a three-game winning streak.

These are the only two games between the clubs, who after Tuesday could only meet again in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Colorado came away impressed with the Penguins.

“Super competitive,” Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper said. “Those are the fun games to play. It’s a good measuring stick, and also good practice for those really intense, close games.”

Colorado coach Jared Bednar called Pittsburgh “the best transition team in the league. … You have to be on your toes against that team.”

Being on their toes in a way that, say, allowed them to respond immediately to both Penguins goals Saturday.

“I like the resiliency in our group,” Bednar said. “That’s becoming more and more frequent. I don’t see our team letting off the gas when things don’t go our way or things aren’t perfect. We’re not getting frustrated like we used to.”

–Field Level Media