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Avalanche blank Oilers to extend series lead in Western Conference final

Avalanche blank Oilers to extend series lead in Western Conference final

Avalanche blank Oilers to extend series lead in Western Conference final

As an early birthday present, Colorado backup goaltender Pavel Francouz received a whole lot of defense and a shutout to go with it.

Just not the node to take over as the starter. That will have to wait.

Francouz stopped 24 shots for his second career playoff shutout, Nazem Kadri had three assists in a 2:04 span in the second period and the Avalanche beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

“Since the first seconds, I knew they would help me a lot so that made me more calm,” said Francouz, who turned 32 on Friday. “I could just focus on my play.”

The Avalanche focused on proving a point — that a team known for its speed could also play some tenacious “D.” It was under scrutiny after the game 1 in which they won 8-6 but nearly squandered a four-goal lead.

This time, they locked in.

“Definitely a confidence booster,” Kadri said. “We can play either way — we can score and we can defend.”

Francouz grew stronger with every save he made as he stepped in for Darcy Kuemper, who left Game 1 with an upper-body injury. Francouz was serenaded with chants of “Frankie! Frankie!” from the crowd.

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Colorado beats Edmonton 4-0 and takes a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference final.

“It was an overall team effort,” Francouz said. “It was better when they were shouting, `Go, Avs, Go!’ or `Let’s go Avs!.”‘

For as good as he was, coach Jared Bednar wasn’t ready to proclaim him the starter moving forward.

“We’ll see,” Bednar said. “We’ll evaluate the game and we’ll talk to Darcy and Frankie and then we’ll make our decision.”

Colorado held Edmonton’s big three of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane to seven shots. Draisaitl saw his streak of nine straight games with at least one assist come to an end.

Avalanche are 5-0 on the road

They’ve got good players. They’ve got good D-men,” McDavid said. “They do a lot of good things, and we’ve got to find a way to figure them out.”

The Avalanche broke through in the second after a scoreless opening period that featured something rarely seen so far in this series — defence. Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson scored 15 seconds apart to get things going in the second, with Mikko Rantanen adding another on Kadri’s third assist.

Nathan MacKinnon scored late in the third. He had 11 shots.

Game 3 is Saturday in Edmonton. The Avalanche are 5-0 on the road so far in these playoffs, and 15-4 in a best-of-seven series when taking a 2-0 lead.

Mike Smith allowed four goals on 40 shots. This after the 40-year-old Smith was pulled into Game 1 after surrendering six goals.

Edmonton is looking to regroup at home.

“We’re certainly not counting ourselves out of this one,” Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie said. “We’ve got a lot of hockey left to play.”

To slow down the speedy MacKinnon, Edmonton tried to shadow him at all times. The relentless pressure included a trip by Duncan Keith after the whistle. It didn’t draw a penalty but drew plenty of boos from the crowd. MacKinnon also got smacked in the face on a play.

Kadri was originally credited with the first goal at 3:58 of the second before it was ruled that Lehkonen tipped the puck. Kadri ended up tying the franchise record for assists in a period. It was a mark set by Quebec’s Risto Siltanen in 1987 and matched in 1996 by Avalanche Hall of Fame forward turned GM Joe Sakic.

“Some fortunate bounces,” Kadri said.

Colorado and Edmonton turned in about as entertaining first period as possible for no goals scored. It included Edmonton weathering Colorado’s 5-on-3 advantage.

There was also a play where Smith used his helmet to redirect a puck out of the air.

Francouz got into the nifty save act, too, including one when he ventured well out of his crease. He was able to stop Cody Ceci’s liner.

“He looked really poised,” Bednar said. “Just sitting in the right spot all night and made most of the saves look easy.”

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