Trade-deadline acquisition Michael Hutchinson, a 30-year-old journeyman goaltender, helped save the Avalanche’s season Monday night in his NHL playoff debut — thanks in large part to an overpowering offensive attack that gave him a five-goal lead to work with.
Called upon as second-string goalie Pavel Francouz was declared “unfit to play,” Hutchinson made 31 saves — 17 in the third period — in Colorado’s 6-3 victory over Dallas.
The Avs trimmed the Stars lead in the Western Conference semifinal series, 3-2, with Game 6 on Wednesday in Edmonton. Hutchinson will again probably be in net.
“It’s what you work for as a kid, and you dream about when playing in the backyard, is to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Hutchinson said. “I was excited and looking forward to the opportunity.”
With the Avs’ injury list growing by the day, perhaps they were the only ones who knew they had a chance against the healthy Stars, whom they nearly skated off the ice with a 5-0 blitzkrieg in the first period. That cushion was more than enough for Hutchinson to bring the victory home.
Rapid-fire scoring had been the Stars’ secret throughout this series, but on this night, the Avs nearly rewrote the record book in scoring in bunches. They bombarded No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop — who came off the injured list to make his series debut — scoring four times in a span of 2:36 in the first period, to stave off elimination.
The Denver-born Bishop was pulled after the Avs’ fourth goal, playing just 13:43 before Anton Khudobin stepped in. Colorado’s fifth goal was its seventh consecutive in the series. It scored the latter two in Game 4’s 5-4 loss.
The Avs set club records in goals (five) and shots (23) in a playoff period, and the four goals in 2:36 was one second shy of the NHL’s all-time playoff record, set by the Montreal Canadiens in 1944.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Andre Burakovsky, Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen each scored first-period goals at even strength, and Burakovsky scored his second late in the second period after the Stars got within 5-2.
“We knew we had show our best self,” said Bellemare, a Frenchman. “Not happy about the game we started (Game 4). When you’re in this situation, we knew it was do-or-die. I felt like we started pretty well, maybe because of it.”
Thirteen-of-18 skaters had points for the Avs, including Burakovsky’s team-high three. MacKinnon, who assisted on Burakovsky’s second goal, was plus-4 and led a lethal offensive attack that outshot Dallas 23-4 in the first period and 38-16 through two.
Bishop had overcome a knee injury and was playing for the first time since Aug. 13 in Game 2 against the Calgary Flames in the first round. He allowed four goals on 19 shots.
“We were shooting a lot of pucks, we were going to the net, we were making it tough for (Bishop),” Burakovsky said. “Tough start for him to not being able to play for a while and to come in and face a lot of shots. I think we did a really good job there.”
Colorado took a 6-2 lead into the third period despite having gone 0-of-6 on the power play up to that point. It finished 0-of-7. Dallas’ second goal came on a power play after the Avs took consecutive unsportsmanlike penalties by Nazem Kadri and Sam Girard.
Dallas made it 6-3 with 5:48 of the third but it was far too little, too late.
Avs coach Jared Bednar said he knew Francouz couldn’t play Sunday night after he was pulled for Hutchinson late in the game. He was backed up Monday by Hunter Miska, who joined the team in the bubble after Philipp Grubauer went down with a lower-body injury in Game 1.
“I talked with Hutch and Miska (Sunday) night and made sure they were both ready to go and knew what to expect,” Bednar said.
Bednar asked for the best game of the series from his team and he definitely got that. The Avs, who didn’t produce their first shot in Game 4 until late in the first period, jumped on Dallas from the first drop of the puck. They didn’t need Hutchinson to be great because he was rarely tested at times.
Francouz, had allowed 15 goals since replacing the Grubauer in Game 1, was often beat with in-tight redirections and rebounds from the Stars — particularly in Game 4.
But Hutchinson had much more support Monday until later in the game when the Avalanche got in penalty trouble. Hutchinson, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, played one regular-season game for the Avs after being acquired Feb. 24.
“I’m real happy for Hutch,” Bednar said. “Since the day we got him, he’s come in every day and went about his business. He’s a real quiet guy in the locker room. Just a great human being and talking to him last night when I was telling him he was going to start, I just wanted him to be relaxed and go be himself — just have a fun night. He’s a confident guy. He’s been working real hard. He’s a zero maintenance guy in our room.”