Jared Bednar coach’s risky challenge pays off as Avalanche bounce back with division win

Immediately after the puck crossed the line, Alexandar Georgiev insisted that Dallas’ goal shouldn’t count. Ryan Suter had pushed Logan O’Connor into him, and Wyatt Johnston scored soon after.

The keeper was not alone in his assessment. As soon as Avalanche coach Jared Bednar saw the replay, he felt convinced the play was goalie interference. His assistants agreed, so he challenged the decision on the ice.

“You can’t go into the goalie alone and you can’t force someone else into it,” Bednar said after Colorado’s 5-2 win over Dallas. “(Georgiev) has no chance of making the save when the rebound erupted. I thought there was a very good chance of him turning around.

Bednar’s decision was not without risk. The game was in the third period and if Colorado had lost the challenge, Dallas would have gone for a power play needing only one goal to tie the score. The Avalanche coach knew the time and the score, but he was sure the league would agree with him following a video review.

Georgiev also expected the goal to be disallowed – “it looked like clear goalkeeper interference,” he said – and the keeper was right. The crowd erupted when the referee announced the goal would not count.

“It was a great challenge from the coach by Bedsy,” O’Connor said. “It was nice to see that call reverse, because otherwise it could have been a huge change in momentum.”

The goalie interference rule can be confusing for coaches and fans – Detroit coach Derek Lalonde shouted “what is goalie interference?” earlier in the week after a failed challenge – and O’Connor admitted he didn’t fully understand the rule.

“I don’t know if anyone does,” he laughed. “Except (video coach Brett Heimlich).”

Thanks in part to Bednar’s decision, the Avalanche won the game and once again control their own destiny in the Central Division. With 96 points in the standings, they are one point behind Minnesota with a game less. Dallas also has 96 points, but the Stars have the tiebreaker against Colorado with more regulation wins. Like Minnesota, they also played one more game than the Avalanche.

Colorado’s win over Dallas follows a disappointing loss to Minnesota earlier in the week. Bednar called some of his players as passengers afterward and said he wanted his team to be more engaged at the start of the Stars game.

The players gave Bednar what he wanted. Midway through the first period, Nathan MacKinnon halted a Stars breakout and managed to keep the puck in the Avalanche’s offensive zone. He threw it along the boards and Mikko Rantanen won a puck battle with Jani Hakanpaa behind the net. Somehow he sent a puck through Wyatt Johnston’s legs to a MacKinnon waiting in the slot. The Avalanche center sent a one-timer into the Stars net.

“The passing was elite,” Bednar said. “(MacKinnon) drove straight into the best scoring area there was, right between the hash marks and took advantage of it. In addition, the shooting was elite. It was on and off his band.

Colorado’s power penalty neutralized Dallas’ chances to tie the game. Cale Makar created a shorthanded opportunity on the Stars’ first power play, and Jack Johnson broke a Johnston chance on their second. JT Compher also had a chance on this murder.

Colorado added to its lead after both disadvantages. Six minutes into the second, Andrew Cogliano fed Logan O’Connor entering the offensive zone. Dallas defender Miro Heiskanen stood between him and the net.

“I saw (Heiskanen) have a bad spread because of the way the neutral zone lined up,” O’Connor said. “So I decided to push and try to use that gap to my advantage.”

He burst around Heiskanen, one of the best defensemen in the league, and tossed the puck into the Dallas net. To win in the playoffs, teams need contributions from non-star players, and O’Connor’s goal provided that for Colorado on Saturday.

Compher broke his stick a few minutes after O’Connor’s count, but he didn’t realize it and played the puck. The referees sent him to the penalty box. As the ensuing penalty expired, Jason Robertson fired a puck into the slot. He hit Evgenii Dadonov and went straight to Tyler Seguin, who pushed him past Georgiev. With that, it looked like the Avalanche would go into the third period just one goal up. But the Stars committed too many men on the ice penalty late in the second, and JT Compher won a face-off in the offensive zone with 14.8 seconds left before intermission. Rantanen grabbed the puck and passed it to MacKinnon, who fired a long shot. The puck trumped Oettinger and the Avalanche again led by two.

“You know Nate’s intensity and what he plays with and what he brings to the rink every night,” Bednar said. “And I think as the games get bigger, we’ve seen it improve.”

The successful third-period challenge secured the lead, and Valeri Nichushkin tipped over in an empty-net attempt by Rantanen after Oettinger went to the bench for an extra striker, making it 4-1. Nichushkin’s goal essentially secured the win, but Joe Pavelski, a known Avalanche hangman, managed to add a late power-play goal for Dallas. The game was out of reach at the time, but the Stars pulled their goaltender out again, allowing Georgiev to make an unsuccessful goalie attempt.

“I felt like it was a good time, an opportunity,” he said. “Best luck I’ve had in the last 10 years, so I had to try it.”

The shot didn’t go far enough in the air, but Rantanen had more success. He threw a puck from the Colorado blue line that went inside.

“I got lucky on that one,” Rantanen said.

This ended a successful rebound for the Avalanche, one that pleased Bednar and put a division title within reach.

“I feel like your response after a loss is huge,” the coach said. “When you get to big games, sometimes you’re going to succeed, sometimes you’re going to fail, and for different reasons. The main thing we like to rely on with our group is that we’re going to be there with our group and compete and work hard and trying to do the right things. I felt our guys ticked all those boxes tonight.

(Photo: Michael Ciaglo/USA Today)


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