Times-Call (Longmont)

Avalanche wallops Blackhawks with Makar out

- By Bennett Durando bdurando@denverpost.com

The Chicago Blackhawks look unrecogniz­able, even from the team that delivered a gut check to Colorado’s season in January. The Avalanche have looked unbeatable since then.

Against a shell of the Blackhawks’ former selves, the Avs sailed to a 5-0 win Monday night at Ball Arena behind Alexandar Georgiev’s 26-save shutout, his fifth of the season.

Colorado (41-22-6) was gasping to stay above .500 and keep up in the playoff race after a 3-2 loss Jan. 12 at United Center. It was the end of a 1-6-1 stretch coming out of the holiday break. At the 40game mark, the Avs were 20-17-3.

They have the best record in the NHL (21-5-3) since that day.

The Blackhawks were already tanking at that point. But they truly accelerate­d (or decelerate­d) between Avalanche matchups, trading Patrick Kane, Max Domi, Sam Lafferty and Jake Mccabe before the deadline.

And Jack Johnson to Colorado. Acquired in an exchange of depth defensemen — Andreas Englund is injured and didn’t play for Chicago in Denver — Johnson was up on the Avalanche’s second pairing Monday. Cale Makar is out with a lowerbody injury, classified as day-today after a minor tweak in Saturday’s win at Detroit.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said it’s “nothing too serious.” But at this point in the season, the Avs aren’t taking any chances with their defending Norris Trophy winner, who was feeling sore during morning skate. Makar started on the ice, but he went to the bench for a discussion with Bednar and trainers as Colorado began special teams drills. Bo Byram operated the top power play unit

as Makar didn’t return.

Queue the domino effect with Sam Girard on the top pairing, Johnson on the second and Kurtis Macdermid on the third. The enforcer was back in the lineup after missing 13 days with his own lower-body injury. He announced his return by scoring his first goal of the season, in a first-period stroke of puck luck. Throwing a puck toward the net but not initially on target, it ricocheted off the knee of Chicago’s Ian Mitchell.

As the Avalanche’s lowest scorer found the back of the net, so did the team’s highest scorer and its hottest. Mikko Rantanen cashed in on a power play for No. 47, inching closer to the 50goal mark with 13 regularsea­son games remaining. And Denis Malgin scored twice, bringing him to eight goals in the last 18 games.

Georgiev’s season save percentage is up to .919. He has allowed two goals in Colorado’s last three games, aiding a six-game win streak to pull within one point of Dallas for first place in the Central.

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