by Ron Knabenbauer
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Colorado Avalanche prospects erased a three-goal deficit to force overtime Monday night but couldn't pull out the victory, falling 4-3 to the Arizona Coyotes at the Prospect Showcase at Solar4America Ice.
Arizona's Nick Merkley tallied the game-winner 1:54 into the extra fame as he snuck the puck past goaltender Petr Kvaca's pads while on a breakaway.
Kvaca, a Czech Republic native that the Avs drafted in the fifth round earlier this summer, was making his debut in the NHL style of game and performed well in his first test. He stopped 26 shots, including several in the second and third periods that proved important to keep Colorado in the contest.
"He played great all night and came up with some key saves and kept us in it and got us to overtime," said Avalanche forward J.T. Compher of Kvaca. "We got to help him out a little more. We left him out to dry on that breakaway, but overall it was a great performance by him."
Kvaca's denial of Ryan MacInnis' chance with 16.1 seconds remaining in the second period might have been the turning point of the game. In a move that he showed off several times during the night, the goalie stretched his left pad to the post and halted the forward's close-range shot.
At the time of that save, Colorado had just tallied twice and soon tied the contest as A.J. Greer scored on a deflection with 2.9 ticks left in the frame. If MacInnis had scored, the Avs' comeback might never have been.
"He was very good. He made some very nice key saves," Avalanche AHL head coach Eric Veilleux said of his netminder. "The first three goals, it was not like he was bad. We gave some Grade-A scoring chances, and they just happened to capitalize on."
The Avalanche had controlled passion for much of the first half of the game but penalty trouble and untimely giveaways proved costly. The Coyotes led 2-0 after the opening period following tallies by Christian Fischer and Tyler Coulter. Lane Pederson extended the advantage to three at 6:15 of the second period.
Defenseman Sergei Boikov began the Avs rally with a short-handed goal at 10:19 of the middle stanza. He received a pass from Alexander Kerfoot at the left circle and released a hard shot that found twine.
Hugo Roy and Ty Lewis assisted on Nolan De Jong's marker at 15:18 to get Colorado within one score, setting the stage for Greer's moment.
Kerfoot began the goal-tying sequence as he gained possession low in the Arizona zone and tossed the puck to the point for Tyson Jost, whose ensuing shot went off Greer and past goaltender Hunter Miska.
"I thought our guys showed a lot of character coming back, being positive on the bench," Veilleux said. "Guys played well. Guys came through and tied it up."
The Avalanche finished with a 38-30 edge in shots and had its fair share of opportunities late in the third period and 3-on-3 overtime to pull ahead.
Just seconds before Merkley notched the OT winner, the Avs had a great scoring chance at the other end of the rink but couldn't convert.
"I thought we played pretty well tonight. We outplayed them for most of the game," Compher said. "It is going to come with time and reps. We had a lot of young guys learning the system. I thought a lot of guys did a really good job tonight."
The Avs now have a quick turnaround as they close the Prospect Showcase on Tuesday with a 1 p.m. MT contest against the Anaheim Ducks.
Colorado forward J.C. Beaudin has yet to play in the tournament. He is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and is doubtful to dress against the Ducks, who have already beaten the Coyotes and host San Jose Sharks in this exhibition.
Goaltender Spencer Martin will get the start for the Avalanche. He played the first half of Saturday's outing against the Sharks