DENVER (AP) — Darcy Kuemper had his own player screening his vision and was still able to lift his stick just enough to deflect a shot down low.
It was just that kind of night for the Colorado Avalanche goaltender.
Kuemper stopped a career-best 46 shots in his fourth shutout of the season, Nathan MacKinnon scored twice and the Avalanche beat the Calgary Flames 3-0 on Sunday.
“I liked his game a lot,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of Kuemper. “He was sharp from start to finish.”
That's a stark contrast to last weekend against the Flames when Kuemper wasn't sharp and pulled early in the second period as Calgary claimed a 4-3 overtime win.
“Definitely a different outcome, for sure,” Kuemper cracked. “Winning’s a lot more fun, for sure. It was a big win for us.”
MacKinnon scored on a power play in the first period and added another goal in the third. Mikko Rantanen sealed it on an empty-net tally with 1:38 remaining to help the Avalanche post their best record through 60 games in franchise history (42-13-5, 89 points).
Dan Vladar made 29 saves in a match between the top two teams in the Western Conference.
The Flames were playing the second game of a back-to-back, but hardly looked sluggish and controlled the tempo early in the game. They also had double the shots of Colorado in the third period.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. “No issues with our game at all.”
Kuemper came up with timely save after timely save Sunday, including a blind block with his stick in the third as teammate Kurtis MacDermid fell into him.
Even Kuemper's not quite sure how he stopped that.
“I felt something — I don’t know if it was ‘Dermi’ hitting me or the puck,” said Kuemper, who earned his career-best 28th win of the season. “I was just trying to sprawl out and get over there the best I could.”
The Flames stayed in the game during the second period thanks to Vladar. He stopped a wide-open shot by Erik Johnson by sliding over and deflecting the puck with his left pad.
About 15 seconds later, Andre Burakovsky dinged a shot off the post. And then, he faced a goaltender's nightmare: MacKinnon open in front of the net. But Vladar's arm blocked his shot.
Kuemper also came up big on a 2-on-1 break by the Flames.
MacKinnon scored his 20th goal of the season on a wrist shot that got by Vladar midway through the first period to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. The Avalanche thought they added another a few minutes later when Alex Newhook’s shot beat Vladar, clanging off one post and then the other.
Newhook even lifted his stick in celebration as the goal-horn sounded, but the official motioned to keep playing. Replays showed the puck never crossed the line.
The best save of the opening period was turned in by Colorado defenseman Devon Toews after a shot by Elias Lindholm trickled toward the net. Toews reached behind Kuemper and knocked it away.
“A disappointing loss,” Flames defenseman Christopher Tanev said. “Tight game, playoff-like game. Came down to a few little things that they did better than us to win the game.”
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog is slated for knee surgery Monday. He has a team-most 30 goals this season.
“He’s a big part of us,” Rantanen said. “Obviously, when you lose your captain, other guys have to step up.”
Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram (personal leave) has been skating with the team. Fellow blue-liner Samuel Girard is expected to be out about a month with a lower-body injury. ... Flames D Oliver Kylington missed a second straight game with a lower-body injury.
Flames: Host the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.
Avalanche: Start a two-game trip Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Kings.
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Pat Graham, The Associated Press