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Canadiens slow down surging Avalanche, snap Colorado’s nine-game winning streak

The Colorado Avalanche have looked unstoppable at home for much of the season and in any venue since a wave of additions before the NHL trade deadline.

The Montreal Canadiens stopped them Tuesday night at Ball Arena. Colorado scored on the first shift of the game, but that was all for the high-powered Avs. The Canadiens snapped their nine-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory.

It was only the Avalanche’s seventh loss in this building in 35 games this season.

“It was frustrating because we didn’t check hard enough in the first period,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Tonight, we did not outscore our mistakes.”

Nathan MacKinnon made sure there was no suspense with his pursuit of the longest home point streak in NHL history. He scored 43 seconds in on a pass from Mikko Rantanen. Jonathan Drouin didn’t earn an assist on the play, but he made the whole sequence happen by keeping the puck in the zone at the blue line.

The goal was MacKinnon’s 45th of the season, and it now gives him at least one point in all 35 games at Ball Arena this season. It’s the second-longest home point streak in NHL history — Wayne Gretzky holds the record at 40 games in 1988-89.

MacKinnon now has 77 points at home this season. That is the most by any NHL player in his home rink since Mario Lemieux had 104 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995-96.

Nick Suzuki tied the game nine seconds later for Montreal, as both teams scored on their first shot of the game. Joel Armia put the Canadiens ahead late in the first period on an odd play. Avalanche goalie Justus Annunen thought the puck was covered inside his gear, but it was actually behind him.

Armia fished it out from between his legs, went around to the other side of the net and stuffed it in with 5:07 remaining in the period. That left the Avalanche with 45 minutes to author another comeback, but the NHL’s comeback kings this season weren’t able to muster another one.

It was a combination of factors. Samuel Montembeault had a strong night in net, particularly in the first 25-30 minutes when the Avs were often on the attack. The Canadiens also a better job of disrupting the Avs’ mojo as the game wore on, particularly in the second half of the second period when the game turned into a slog with few chances at either end.

“We were trying to be too cute at times,” Avs defenseman Cale Makar said. “Simplicity is usually the answer. That’s how you start generating opportunities.”

At times, it also just looked like an off night for the home side. MacKinnon and Makar had a couple of uncharacteristic miscommunications. The power play was disjointed and created very few chances, despite three opportunities in the first half of the game.

Hopes of another comeback were largely doused when Sean Walker took a pair of high-sticking penalties in the third period, including a double-minor with a just more than five minutes remaining.

“They blocked a lot of shots and their goalie played well,” Bednar said. “We just didn’t do enough. Didn’t do enough on the defensive side early, probably didn’t do enough on the offensive side later.”

FOOTNOTES: Annunen signed a two-year contract Tuesday. It carries a cap hit of $837,500. He was set to be a restricted free agent after this season, and he’ll still be an RFA at the end of the deal.

The 24-year-old has become the club’s No. 2 goaltender during the second half of the season after beginning the year in the AHL. He and Ivan Prosvetov have had chances to play behind Alexandar Georgiev because Pavel Francouz has missed the entire season with an injury. Avs GM Chris MacFarland told DNVR earlier this week that Francouz, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, has given the club no indication that he will try to continue playing.

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