NHL Pavel Francouz, Avalanche blank Oilers for 2-0 lead in West finals

The Colorado Avalanche believed they would improve on defense after giving up six goals in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. They proved it in Game 2, and now they head to Edmonton with a chance to put the Oilers in a deep hole.

Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson scored 15 seconds apart in the second period, Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist, and the Avalanche beat the Oilers 4-0 in Game 2 on Thursday in Denver.

Pavel Francouz turned away 24 shots to record his second career playoff shutout for the Avalanche, who lead the best-of-seven series 2-0. Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon also scored, Lehkonen finished with two points and Nazem Kadri had three assists.

The Avalanche aren’t making plans for the Stanley Cup Final just yet, but they feel good with how Francouz played with top goaltender Darcy Kuemper out due to an undisclosed injury.

“It’s not easy to not play a lot at the end of the year and especially in the playoffs and jump in like that,” Rantanen said of Francouz. “It tells us how good of a goalie he is and how mentally strong he is.”

Colorado coach Jared Bednar, asked if Kuemper could return for Game 3 in Edmonton on Saturday night, replied, “We’ll see. He’s day-to-day.”

Mike Smith made 36 saves for the Oilers.

Edmonton is confident heading home, where it is 4-2 in the playoffs. The Oilers have won their past three on home ice.

“We’re down two heading back to a rink where we love playing in,” Edmonton defenseman Tyson Barrie said. “We’re not counting ourselves out of this one. We’ve got a lot of good hockey left.”

The Avalanche held Edmonton’s top line in check and kept Connor McDavid off the scoresheet.

“They’ve got good players, got good (defensemen),” McDavid said. “We haven’t had a ton of chances off the rush.”

The first period was fast-paced and featured several chances by both teams, but the goaltenders kept it scoreless after 20 minutes.

The Avalanche changed things in the second.

A turnover by the Oilers in their own zone gave Colorado an opportunity. Rantanen got the puck off the boards and backhanded a pass to Kadri, who unleashed a slapshot from the top of the left circle. Lehkonen deflected it past Smith at 3:58 to open the scoring.

It was his fifth goal of the postseason.

The Avalanche struck again off the ensuing faceoff at center ice. The puck went into the Edmonton zone to Kadri, who sent a diagonal pass to Manson at the point. His slapshot beat Smith on the short side at 4:13 for his second of the playoffs.

Less than two minutes later, Colorado added to its lead. Rantanen chipped the puck out of his own end to Kadri, and the two broke out on a two-on-one. Kadri fed Rantanen as the pair skated in on Smith, and Rantanen roofed a shot at 6:02 for his third goal of the postseason.

Edmonton had chances to cut into the deficit in the second period. The best opportunity occurred when Darnell Nurse came in alone in the Avalanche zone, but Francouz made the save on a close-in shot.

The Oilers continued to press in the third period to break through, but Evander Kane’s elbowing penalty on Cale Makar late in the frame led to MacKinnon’s power-play goal at 15:20. It was MacKinnon’s 10th goal of the postseason.

–Field Level Media

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