It remains unclear when or if Valeri Nichushkin will return to the Colorado Avalanche this postseason.
However, to separate rumor from fact, some context is being added to the “personal reasons” that led him to miss Games 3, 4, and 5 of the team’s first-round series against the Seattle Kraken.
Nichushkin's absence is not health or team-discipline related, coach Jared Bednar said previously in Seattle. On Wednesday, ahead of Game 5 at Ball Arena, Bednar confirmed the team has remained in contact with Nichushkin during his current leave. Bednar also said it is not a legal issue keeping Nichushkin away from the Avalanche.
The Denver Gazette sought comment from Nichushkin’s player representation at International Sports Advisors and they did not immediately respond Wednesday.
This much is clear: Colorado is missing two top-six wingers in Gabe Landeskog (knee) and Nichushkin (personal reasons) on their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
“We’d like to have ... Val and Landy, two of the best wingers in the league. Mikko (Rantanen) is OK, I guess,” said Nathan MacKinnon, punctuated with dry humor, back in Seattle. “Honestly, it sucks. But that’s life. Worse things are happening, I guess. But we miss him for sure.”
Mikko Rantanen added: “It’s a big loss. Him and Landy are obviously big top-six guys for us. All the guys have to step up. It’s not easy when you lose guys like (that). They’re both really good players. … We’ve just got to mentally put it aside, know that this is our group and what we’re going to go with for now. Just keep plugging away. There’s not anything else to do.”
Depth forward Matt Nieto, acquired at the trade deadline from San Jose, moves into the top six without Nichushkin. Nieto has confidence in his second-line chemistry with J.T. Compher and Rantanen based on Nieto's previous stint in Colorado (2017-20).
“I’ve played games with them before at certain times of my career,” Nieto said. “Obviously, good players, and for me it’s just continuing to play fast and play my game. Not try to do too much out there. Just complement those guys, get in on the forecheck and play a North game.”
Earlier this month, in an exclusive interview with The Denver Gazette, Nichushkin discussed the expectations that come with signing an 8-year, $49-million contract extension in the offseason. His response suggests it’s not easy for him to miss playing time at the most critical point of the year.
“You have to prove it every day,” Nichushkin said. “That’s pushed me to work hard.”
Kraken 3, Avalanche 2
What happened: Colorado dropped consecutive games in their first-round series to set up a must-win Game 6 on Friday night in Seattle.
What went right: Nathan MacKinnon tied the game early in the second period when he deflected a Mikko Rantanen shot on goal into the net. Evan Rodrigues scored late on a redirect at the crease.
What went wrong: It was a scoreless first with lots of whistles and Seattle hitting several posts. The Kraken took a 1-0 lead in the second period when Morgan Geekie potted a rebound at the crease. Seattle later regained the lead, 2-1, under questionable circumstances. Nathan MacKinnon was tripped with no call in the offensive zone; leading to a Kraken breakaway chance and Tye Kartye’s game winner. Seattle added an insurance goal late from Yanni Gourde.
Between the pipes: Alexandar Georgiev made 25-of-28 saves. Seattle’s Philipp Grubauer stopped 26 of Colorado’s 28 shots on goal.
Injury report: Defenseman Jack Johnson (lower body) returned to the lineup for the first time this season. Forward Darren Helm (upper body) did not play in Game 5.
What’s next: The Avalanche face the Kraken, 8 p.m. Friday (TNT, Altitude) at Climate Pledge Arena in Game 6 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series.