Another fast start fuels Avalanche in dominant 4-1 win over Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Suddenly, the Avalanche’s strong starts are beginning to blur together enough to be forgotten.

“First time in a while we had a really good first period,” Mikko Rantanen said Wednesday in Calgary after a 3-0 frame led to a 4-1 win. The natural follow-up: Was there something Rantanen didn’t like about Colorado’s first periods in the previous two games, both of which ended with 2-0 leads? “Oh yeah, it was I guess,” he laughed. “Yeah, that was good. I forgot about those.”

Dominant starts being treated as no biggie felt unimaginable a week ago, but they’re fueling the Avalanche now. The latest was a 3-0 lead in Vancouver en route to a 4-1 win Friday at Rogers Arena.

“It’s tough to explain,” Andrew Cogliano said. “We’re just trying to play a little bit differently. We were desperate there for a bit. And we have good players. I think when you have good players and guys get desperate, good things happen.”

After 21 consecutive games without holding a three-goal lead, the Avs (24-17-3) have started the last four games ahead 7-0, 5-0, 3-0 and 3-0. At one point, they went 11 games without a first-intermission lead.

The game that snapped that streak was earlier this month in Vancouver, but the ensuing collapse turned out to be one of the bleakest moments of the season. It was still on coach Jared Bednar’s mind Friday morning before the rematch — “We took a nap for eight minutes,” he said — and the players skated like it was still on their minds, too.

Valeri Nichushkin scored his first goal since Oct. 25 at Madison Square Garden. Rantanen netted his 32nd of the season, staying on a 59.6-goal pace 24 hours after fans voted him to his second NHL All-Star Game. Both of those goals were scored with 5-on-3 advantages, another refreshing uptick after the power play drought that plagued Colorado through its eight-game slump after the holiday break. Six of Nichushkin’s eight goals this season have been on the power play.

“It’s nice to see him get rewarded for his hard work,” coach Jared Bednar said.

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When the struggling Canucks cut it to 3-1 and brought the recent memories creeping back into the minds of Avalanche fans, former Canuck Brad Hunt eliminated the rally. His bomb from the blueline re-supplied a three-goal lead with 33 seconds left in the second stanza.

Cogliano also scored, but his night was hampered by three minor penalties — one in each period. He also compiled 12 penalty minutes last time in Vancouver, mostly because of a 10-minute misconduct during the Canucks’ comeback.

He had a front row ticket from the box Friday to watch Colorado kill every penalty.

“Seems like we’re just pressuring a lot better. Pressure points are a lot better,” he said. “I think (assistant coach Nolan Pratt) made a couple adjustments for us to be a little more on our toes.”

Cale Makar skated in a regular jersey Friday morning and directed the top power play unit, but he missed a second straight game with an injury now officially classified as upper-body. Bednar indicated Makar might be ready to play Saturday (8 p.m.) in Seattle, when the Avs play their first back-to-back since the NHL Global Series in early November.

As they fly to the next city, the Canucks wait at home for coach Bruce Boudreau’s seemingly inevitable fate. Fans treated him to their old chant of “Bruce, there it is” during the game. He responded by tapping his heart.

“Kind of seems like the mindset and the mood kind of got to us tonight. You can tell guys are down,” Vancouver’s Tyler Myers said. “It’s tough. Can’t sugarcoat anything. It’s a tough situation. … It’s really different than anything I’ve seen.”