Red hot Avs get lift from Johnson, stay rolling behind Rantanen, Georgiev

Feb 27, 2023, 11:50 PM | Updated: 11:56 pm
Jack Johnson...
Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Told by his agent to pack a bag on his last road trip with the Chicago Blackhawks, Jack Johnson was ready to return to Denver and not the Windy City.

“I always thought there could be a chance (of returning to the Avs.)” Johnson said. “Clearly I had my eyes wide open, you just don’t know where. Hopefully, if you are moved it’s to a place you are really excited about. Obviously, it couldn’t have worked out better.”

The Colorado Avalanche gave up 27-year-old defenseman Andreas Englund for the 36-year-old 17-year NHL blueliner.

“I think it’s a great trade for us,” Bednar went on to explain the difference between Englund and Johnson. “Each player has their strengths and weaknesses. Englund for me was a heavy defender, a hard worker, with some toughness, not a polished guy, and some of the puck-moving things were just ok. I think you are getting a more experienced player in Jack and a guy who has proven he can do what it takes when things get ratcheted up.”

Johnson is well-liked in the Avalanche locker room. He had the good fortune to be on the ice for the Blackhawks on opening night in Colorado. Organically, he left the Chicago bench and joined his championship brothers, arms draped over each others shoulders as the championship banner was raised to the rafters. It was an iconic moment to see a player in an enemy sweater standing alongside his ex-teammates bonded by the blood, sweat and tears it took to win the Cup.

Johnson was also on the ice in Chicago for the nadir of the Avs’ season—a seemingly horrific 3-2 loss to a Hawks team who is all but openly tanking.

Avs players called for a closed door meeting when they got back to the Mile High City, and the team hit reset.

Fast forward 18 games and Colorado is one of the hottest teams in the league, going 14-2-2. They’re once again the favorite to come out of the west and they’re among the most dangerous teams in the NHL with Friday’s Trade Deadline approaching.

Johnson hasn’t really hasn’t missed a thing. He won the cup, was on the ice for the banner raising and now returns in a significant role for a team that is absolutely steamrolling opponents and in need of some depth on defense.

Johnson spent a large chunk of his career in Columbus. His young family still lives in Dublin, Ohio. The NHL vet famously took the Cup to a Dell’s Ice Cream and Coffee, a local ice cream shop where his kids and their friends slurped a ton of ice cream from the coolest chalice imaginable. Johnson said the kids will remain in school in Ohio while he reunites with his pals to try to repeat.

Johnson suited up for his new old team Monday night at Ball Arena in a battle against first place Las Vegas.

The Avs got off to a lightning start, 14 seconds after puck drop beleaguered Knights goalie Adin Hill tried to clear the zone only to have Mikko Rantanen knock it down out of mid-air, gather and rocket home the opening goal, netting a tie for the seventh fastest franchise goal in team history.

The Avs next best opportunity to extend the lead came deep into the second period. Mikko would actually get in a sort of fight with Brett Howden. There was some debate whether any actual punches were thrown. There was agreement he kind of tried to tussle at least.

In the ensuing plays with Rantanen in the box, Chandler Stephenson would get a cross checking penalty creating a four on three for Colorado and despite massive pressure the Avalanche cash in on.

But straight out of the box came the Moose to smoke home his second goal of the night and 40th of the campaign, giving the Avs a 2-0 advantage they took into the third period.

The fabulous Finn had a friendly face in the crowd as his father was in attendance, joined by the European based Avs fan club: Eurolanche. The exuberant Euros were in town for their yearly sojourn to America. What father wouldn’t love to see their kid score goals and get in a sort of fight?

Bo Byram single-handily buried two Knights into the boards, one on top of the other, in final frame while his teammates kept the pressure on the Knights. And Nathan MacKinnon stayed hot, firing home an empty netter, giving the Avs a third. Goalie Alexandar Georgiev stood tall in his shutout in what was Colorado’s sixth straight win and 30th point out of a possible 36.

“I think the key to suppressing shots was managing the puck much better tonight,” explained Bednar after the game. “We managed the game really well tonight.”

“I thought he was great,” Bednar went on to compliment Johnson. “I thought the D core had a nice flow. It was good to get back to 12 (forwards) and six (defensemen) with an experienced guy like Jack”

Kicking back in his locker after the game Johnson was loose and happy to be back.

“The third period was really fun and I was relaxed. The first period there was a lot of nervous energy and it was a blur. In the third period you hear that song (All The Small Things) and the guys are just grinding out a win. It felt like old times,” he said.”

Meanwhile, Mikko sat back in his locker after beating Joe Sakic by seven games to become the fastest Avs player to net 40 goals, satisfied with where the team is at “offensively we are finding our rhythm and capitalizing on our chances. Guys are just bringing goals up to the table and you need that now.”

“No. No still zero fights in the career. So yeah, it’s not a fight” Mikko smiled and also mentioned it was always great to have friends and family in from Finland. “Always gives you an extra boost.”

Wherever this team is finding inspiration, it’s clearly working. What was always was speculated is now reality: The Colorado Avalanche are officially the worst nightmare for the rest of the NHL. They are back and they are dangerous.

The high level competition continues to heat up as the NHL’s second-best team thus far, the Devils, flame into town.



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