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Regulation might not be enough when Leafs visit Avalanche

Jan 8, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (36) and right wing William Nylander (88) and defenseman Justin Holl (3) and Colorado Avalanche center Alex Newhook (18) watch the puck as right wing Ilya Mikheyev (65) turns away from the shot of defenseman Cale Makar (8) in the third period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

When the Colorado Avalanche play at home, there’s a good chance the game will need more than 60 minutes.

The last three games at Ball Arena have gone to overtime, with two going to a shootout. Colorado is 2-0-1 in those games after a 5-4 shootout loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night. Now the Avalanche will end 2022 by hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night in Denver.

Toronto is coming off a 6-3 loss at Arizona on Thursday night, one of two setbacks the Maple Leafs suffered in two days. On Wednesday, the NHL fined Toronto $100,000 for a holiday travel violation.

The league has a designated annual holiday break from Dec. 24-26 and the Maple Leafs flew out of Toronto late Monday night for Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues.

The loss to the Coyotes was rare for Toronto, which has been on a tear since losing four in a row at the end of October. The Maple Leafs have gone 18-4-4 since an overtime loss at Anaheim on Oct. 30 and have stayed relatively close to red-hot Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto led in the third period against Arizona and needed overtime to beat St. Louis in a game they led after 40 minutes.

“That is two games in a row now that we have given up a lead in the third period,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s two games we’ve been in control of. It got away on us for different reasons.”

Saturday night will see the return of Dryden Hunt, whom the Avalanche dealt to Toronto for Denis Malgin on Dec. 19. Malgin has played in four games since the deal while Hunt played his first game with the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Colorado has dropped two in a row and recently lost Valeri Nichushkin when he aggravated his surgically repaired ankle, but things might be looking up for the reigning champions. Nathan MacKinnon, who hasn’t played since suffering an upper-body injury on Dec. 5, could play Saturday night.

MacKinnon’s original timeline for returning was four to five weeks, but he has been skating and coach Jared Bednar said he is a possibility for the game against Toronto.

MacKinnon was in a red non-contact jersey during Friday’s practice.

“When he feels comfortable enough to start taking full contact and getting into drills (he will),” Bednar said.

Forward Darren Helm, who has yet to play this year due to an abductor injury that required surgery, was on the ice Friday but is not set to return to the lineup.

If MacKinnon does return, it will ease the burden on Mikko Rantanen, who has carried the load among forwards this month with 11 goals, an Avalanche record for December. He has a four-game point streak, with three goals and four assists in that span.

Defenseman Cale Makar has been vital to keeping Colorado afloat. He scored his 57th career goal Thursday night, passing Adam Foote for sixth place in franchise history for goals by a defenseman.

–Field Level Media