Nichushkin scores hat trick to lead Avalanche to 5-1 win, leaving Jets on the brink

Valeri Nichushkin scored two power-play goals and added an empty-netter to lead the Colorado Avalanche to a 5-1 victory over Winnipeg on Sunday that left the Jets in must-win mode for the rest of the first-round playoff series.

Artturi Lehkonen and Cale Makar also scored for the Avalanche, who took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven matchup.

Nathan MacKinnon had two assists for Colorado. Nate Schmidt had the lone goal for Winnipeg.

The Jets will look to avoid elimination in Game 5 on Tuesday night at Canada Life Centre.

With defenceman Brenden Dillon out after cutting his left hand at the end of a 6-2 loss in Game 3 on Friday night, Logan Stanley returned to the Winnipeg lineup. The Jets also brought in speedy forward Axel Jonsson-Fjallby for David Gustafsson.

The Avalanche also made a change with AHL call-up Nikolai Kovalenko making his NHL debut on the third line. Forward Joel Kiviranta sat out.

Colorado came out flying in front of a vocal sellout crowd at Ball Arena, firing nine shots at Connor Hellebuyck over the first seven minutes.

The pressure was rewarded when Casey Mittelstadt won a puck battle over Stanley behind the net and slid it to an open Lehkonen, who fired in a wrist shot at 8:10.

The Jets seemed unsettled and had difficulty moving the puck out of their own zone. Team rhythm improved after Schmidt picked the top corner on Alexandar Georgiev’s blocker side to tie the game at 13:56.

Georgiev made a brilliant pad save to stone Vladislav Namestnikov late in the first period. Colorado outshot Winnipeg 13-9 over the first 20 minutes.

Stanley’s rough day continued early in the second period. He picked up a needless roughing penalty and was called for interference shortly after the Jets killed off the first minor.

The second call was negated a minute later as MacKinnon was called for interference after knocking the stick out of Namestnikov’s hands while driving to the net.

Colorado’s top line of MacKinnon, Nichushkin and Mikko Rantanen was quiet over the first half of the game. That changed once Nichushkin tipped in a Makar point shot at 11:36.

Makar padded the lead moments later with a highlight-reel coast-to-coast effort. The star defenceman weaved through the Winnipeg zone and beat Hellebuyck over the right shoulder at 15:03.

Nichushkin notched his second power-play goal of the game with 24 seconds left in the second period. Lehkonen was stationed in front and deftly flicked a rebound across the crease for Nichushkin to tap in.

Winnipeg’s top two lines were effectively shut down by the Avalanche defence for the third straight game. The Jets outscored Colorado 7-6 in the series opener but the offence has been mostly ineffective since.

Laurent Brossoit replaced Hellebuyck after the second period.

Namestnikov left the game midway through the third after taking a slapshot to the side of the head. He was down on the ice for about a minute before skating off under his own power, a towel pressed to his face to stop the bleeding.

Nichushkin completed the hat trick with 12.4 seconds left to play. Colorado outshot Winnipeg 35-26.


Jets coach Rick Bowness said he was hopeful that Dillon would be able to return for Game 5.

Dillon has three assists in the series. He had 20 points (8-12) over 77 games in the regular season.


If Game 6 is necessary, it would be played Thursday in Denver. The series would shift back to Winnipeg on Saturday if it goes the distance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2024.

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