EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Pavel Francouz took J.T. Compher off the hook for a penalty with a key save on Connor McDavid. A few seconds later, Compher took the life out of Rogers Place — and put the Colorado Avalanche on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Compher came out of the penalty box to give Colorado the lead with 7:18 left and the Avalanche beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Saturday night to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Called for tripping Leon Draisaitl just three minutes after Ryan McLeod tied it for Edmonton, Compher raced out of the box, beat defenseman Evan Bouchard for control along the boards and scored between goalie Mike Smith's legs.
Valeri Nichushkin scored twice for Colorado, Mikko Rantanen had an empty-netter with 30 seconds left, and Francouz made 27 saves.
Francouz stepped in midway through the Colorado’s 8-6 victory in Game 1 when Darcy Kuemper sustained an upper-body injury, then made 24 saves Thursday night in a 4-0 win for his second career playoff shutout. In Game 3, he made the big stop on McDavid to keep it tied before Compher scored.
“Frankie’s quick and got over there and made a great stop on it,” Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “That shows some strength to be able to reset after they tie it up in the fashion they did and be able to reset and get back to it.”
McLeod tied it at 2 at 7:34 of the third, going the length of the ice and beating Francouz with a snap shot from the high slot.
McDavid opened the scoring 38 seconds in for Edmonton. Smith made 39 saves.
“Our goal is the same as it was today, which is we’ve got to win one hockey game,” Edmonton interim coach Jay Woodcroft said.
Game 4 is Monday night in Edmonton, with Colorado a game away from advancing to the Stanley Cup final. The Avalanche won titles in 1996 and 2001.
“No doubt, obviously, a big win, but the job’s not done,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said.
After McDavid’s quick goal, Edmonton killed a five-minute penalty on Evander Kane for boarding Nazem Kadri just 28 seconds after McDavid's goal, and stopped the Avalanche power play again midway through the period after Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse was called for shooting the puck over the glass. Kadri was injured on Kane's hit and didn’t return.
Coach Jared Bednar ruled out Kadri for at least the rest of the series, if not longer.
“He’s out," Bednar said. "The hit? It’s the most dangerous hit in hockey."
Nichushkin scored on two fortunate deflections to give Colorado the lead. He tied it with 3:48 left in the first period when his centering pass deflected in off Nurse. Then at 4:37 of the second, Nichushkin controlled a deflection off a shot from the point that MacKinnon and fired a wrist shot through Bouchard's legs and past the screened Smith.
“Val is a huge part of our team and our offensive game and our checking game and helps out in all areas of the game,” Landeskog said. "Tonight, obviously, he was a force and comes up with two big goals for us, and I thought did a great job on the forecheck and neutral zone, staying above their top players and not giving them much room. It’s a tough task, but he’s been huge for us and he just continues to get better and better and a big, important piece for us.”
Colorado killed off MacKinnon's tripping penalty late in the second, and Edmonton stopped the Avalanche's power play again early in the third with Draisaitl off for high-sticking.
Only four NHL teams have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to accomplish the feat in the first round of the 2014 playoffs against San Jose.
“Every play counts,” Smith said. “The desperation level has to be at an all-time high in order to win at this time of the year. It comes from everybody in the room — just a little bit more.
“There’s not a lot of space out there, but you've got to give everything you have for one game.”