December 15, 2017 / 5:09 AM / in 6 months

MacKinnon, Avalanche beat Panthers 2-1

MacKinnon, Avalanche beat Panthers 2-1

DENVER — Nathan MacKinnon got off to a slow start this season, but he is making up for it with a dominant stretch for the Colorado Avalanche.

MacKinnon scored two goals, Semyon Varlamov made 32 saves, and the Avalanche beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Thursday night.

It was MacKinnon’s third two-goal game this season and it helped Colorado (15-14-2) beat Florida for the second time in five days. The Avalanche beat the Panthers 7-3 in Florida on Saturday night.

MacKinnon had a goal in that victory and now has 13 this season. After scoring just once in the first 10 games, he has 12 goals in the past 22.

“I felt it was coming. In October I felt like I was playing pretty good,” said MacKinnon, who leads the Avalanche with 35 points. “I played better in some of those games and didn’t get anything, and I got some points in some games where I didn’t play that great the last month and a half.”

He was unhappy with his play Tuesday in a 5-2 loss at Washington that ended a four-game road trip. He made up for it Thursday while logging 22:03 of ice time with coach Jared Bednar opting to go with seven defensemen against Florida.

“That line, Nate in particular, was unhappy with the last game,” Bednar said. “It was sort of a tough day in Wash and that was a hungry and determined line tonight. Mac, especially, playing the 11 forwards, he doubled up almost the whole game and made the most of his ice time, for sure.”

Aleksander Barkov scored for Florida (12-15-5) and James Reimer had 28 saves but couldn’t stop MacKinnon with the game tied.

MacKinnon was denied a goal by Reimer’s glove at 4:44 of the third, but he got the best of the goalie two minutes later for the game-winner.

He got a pass from Mark Barberio at the Florida blue line and got around defenseman Aaron Ekblad. MacKinnon’s shot went off Reimer’s body on the short side and in at 6:44.

“You just have to try to take away as much as you can. Unfortunately it just found a puck-sized hole,” Reimer said.

The Panthers pulled Reimer for an extra skater with 1:36 left but couldn’t get the equalizer.

“We had a lot of opportunities, but you have to give them credit; they played well, especially their goalie,” center Jared McCann said. “Second opportunities off of first shots is what we need to work on.”

MacKinnon, double-shifting on the fourth line, gave Colorado a 1-0 lead when he beat Reimer from the top of the left circle at 3:15 of the second period.

The Panthers tied it up with a shorthanded goal later in the second. Jamie McGinn stripped the puck from Samuel Girard behind Colorado’s net and then fed Barkov streaking down the left side, and he shot it past Varlamov for his 11th of the season at 10:27.

Vincent Trocheck nearly gave Florida the lead minutes later, but his shot rang off the post.

The Avalanche outshot Florida 16-12 in the first period, but it was the Panthers with the higher-quality chances. Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau grazed posts with shots and Varlamov made a big save on a rebound shot in the slot by Connor Brickley in the final minutes of the period.

“It’s always important at the start of the game to play well, make a couple saves,” Varlamov said. “It gives the team confidence when they see the goalie is on his game.”

NOTES: The Avalanche weren’t called for a penalty until midway through the third period. ... Florida has scored six shorthanded goals this season, which is tied with San Jose for most in the NHL this season. Colorado has allowed six goals on its power play. ... Florida C Denis Malgin was scratched with an upper-body injury. Malgin, who has four goals in 14 games, left Tuesday’s overtime loss in Chicago and was ruled out after Thursday’s morning skate. ... Avalanche C Alexander Kerfoot missed his second straight game with a foot injury. Kerfoot was hurt when he took a shot from teammate Erik Johnson off the foot in Monday’s win at Pittsburgh.

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