DENVER (AP) — Bowen Byram scored his first NHL goal and added an assist to lead the short-handed Colorado Avalanche to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the season opener for both teams Wednesday night.
Nazem Kadri and Gabriel Landeskog each had a goal and an assist for Colorado, which played without star center Nathan MacKinnon and head coach Jared Bednar. Both are in the COVID-19 protocol and away from the team.
Assistant coaches Ray Bennett and Nolan Pratt led the team against Chicago.
Darcy Kuemper stopped 32 shots in his Avalanche debut, and Jack Johnson added a goal.
Kuemper, acquired from Arizona in the offseason, wasn’t tested early, but made two big saves on Kirby Dach in the second period. Dach had a breakaway at 12:02, but Kuemper closed the pads on his shot. Minutes later, he had another wide-open chance from the left circle that Kuemper stopped.
Soon after, Byram fed Kadri for a goal and a 4-1 lead.
Colorado got a measure of revenge on Chicago goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who helped Vegas beat the Avalanche in the second round of the 2020-21 playoffs. Fleury faced a barrage of shots early when Colorado had 17 of the first 19 shots on goal.
Johnson, who made the team on a professional tryout contract, opened the scoring at 4:26 of the first period. Landeskog’s deflection 1:22 later made it 2-0, and Byram scored at 9:34 to put the Avalanche ahead by three.
The Blackhawks got on the board late in the first period when forward Dominik Kubalik scored on the power play at 16:47, cutting Colorado’s lead to 3-1.
Connor Murphy scored an unassisted goal at 15:13 of the third period. Chicago went on the power play at 16:26 and pulled Fleury for a 6-on-4 advantage, but couldn’t score.
The Avalanche are hopeful MacKinnon and Bednar can return for Saturday night’s game. Both are asymptomatic and could “test out,” according to general manager Joe Sakic.
NOTES: Forward Jayson Megna was recalled from the AHL to fill MacKinnon’s spot. He centered the fourth line. ... Chicago C Jonathan Toews played his first game since before the pandemic. He opted out of last season after being diagnosed with of chronic immune response syndrome. ... Colorado is 17-6-3 in home openers since moving to Denver in 1995.
Blackhawks: At the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.
Avalanche: Host the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.
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Michael Kelly, The Associated Press