Nichushkin records 1st career hat trick, Avalanche beat Jets 5-1 in Game 4 to take 3-1 series lead

Nichushkin records 1st career hat trick, Avalanche beat Jets 5-1 in Game 4 to take 3-1 series lead

DENVER (AP) — In his postgame on-ice interview, Valeri Nichushkin described his day in as many words as he had goals: “I feel amazing.”

Nichushkin recorded his first career hat trick, Alexandar Georgiev turned in another strong showing and the Avalanche beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-1 in Game 4 on Sunday to move a win away from advancing.

It’s been a roller-coaster season for the 29-year-old Nichushkin, who missed nearly two months earlier this year to receive care from NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound fast-moving Nichushkin is getting up to full speed.

“It's hard to stop the big man,” said Artturi Lehkonen, who scored the game's first goal.

Cale Makar also scored for the Avalanche, who grabbed a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Winnipeg.

Nichushkin added an empty-netter with 13 seconds left to give him his third goal and his first hat trick in game No. 580 of his NHL career, including regular season and postseason.

“That surprises me. I thought he did have (a hat trick) before this. Pretty cool,” Makar said. “When he's using his body right and skating well, a pretty special player to watch.”

Georgiev was on the hot seat after a shaky Game 1, but his confidence keeps surging with every big save. He stopped 26 shots in the matinee game.

Vezina Trophy-favorite Connor Hellebuyck continues to struggle in net. He allowed four goals on 30 shots before being replaced by Laurent Brossoit for the third period. Hellebuyck has surrendered 19 goals in the series.

“I don’t think those goals are his fault,” forward Mark Scheifele said of Hellebuyck. “He’s our backbone. He’s our heart and soul.”

Lehkonen and Nichushkin have both scored in all four games of the series. Makar had a goal and an assist Sunday to give him 73 points (18 goals, 55 assists) in 65 career playoff games. It’s the second-highest points per game average (1.12) by a defenseman in postseason history, behind only Bobby Orr (1.24).

Makar's goal was a masterpiece as he took the puck deep in his zone, weaved through several Winnipeg defenders, found some open space and lined a shot past Hellebuyck.

“He’s the best for a reason,” teammate Casey Mittelstadt said of Makar. “That’s what he does.”

Nathan MacKinnon added two assists.

Nate Schmidt scored for Winnipeg.

There was a scary moment in the third period when Winnipeg forward Vladislav Namestnikov was hit in the left side of his face by a puck. Namestnikov was trying to jump out of the way of a shot from teammate Nate Schmidt when the puck hit a stick and struck him. Namestnikov stayed down on the ice as trainers rushed out. He skated off with help, a towel pressed to his head, and exited through the Avalanche bench. He was taken to the hospital for further evaluation.

On Friday, Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon suffered a laceration on his hand after appearing to be cut by a skate blade during a scrum following the final horn in Colorado's 6-2 win Friday.

The Jets committed four penalties in the second, helping the Avalanche break open the game with a three-goal period. Nichushkin cashed in by scoring a pair of power-play goals to give Colorado a 4-1 lead.

“We've got to change our game plan," Nino Niederreiter said.

Jets coach Rick Bowness had another suggestion — stay out of the penalty box.

“The problems are self-inflicted,” Bowness said. “Penalties took us out of the game."

Avalanche forward Nikolai Kovalenko made his NHL debut after being recalled from the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League. Kovalenko became the sixth Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques player to make his league debut in the postseason.

Kovalenko’s father, Andrei, was a member of the Avalanche when the team moved to Denver for the 1995-96 season. Andrei Kovalenko was part of the trade that helped the Avalanche acquire Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy from Montreal in December 1995.

This was a rare home playoff matinee game for the Avalanche. The last time they hosted an afternoon postseason contest was on April 17, 2004, against Dallas in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. Colorado won 5-1.

No time to think about this win, though.

“Job’s not finished,” Lehkonen said.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL