Avs spoil Kuemper’s return, top Caps 3-2 as Bednar sets mark
DENVER (AP) — Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano and Alex Newhook scored against former teammate Darcy Kuemper and the surging Colorado Avalanche held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Tuesday night to give coach Jared Bednar his franchise-record 266th victory.
Logan O’Connor added two assists, Nathan MacKinnon had an assist for his 700th point and Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves in the Avs’ season-best sixth straight victory. They moved into third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of Minnesota.
Bednar, coaching his 500th game for Colorado, improved to 266-185-49 and passed former Quebec Nordiques boss Michel Bergeron for the most coaching victories in franchise history.
“I’m glad it’s here and gone so we can stop talking about it,” Bednar said. “We didn’t play our best game tonight, so I”m just happy we were able to get the two points.”
Alex Ovechkin returned from an injury to score his 31st goal for Washington. Conor Sheary also scored and Kuemper stopped 23 shots in his first game in Denver since helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in June.
The crowd stood and applauded after a first-period video tribute for Kuemper, who won 37 games in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs.
The Avs chose not to re-sign Kuemper, who then inked a five-year deal with the Capitals in July.
“It was pretty tough,” a choked-up Kuemper said of the tribute. “It was a lot of mixed emotions. It was pretty special being back.”
He had his moments against his former team, including nifty glove saves against Jacob MacDonald and Lehkonen in the second period to keep it a one-goal game. But Newhook’s goal with 4:21 left in the second made it 3-1.
The depleted Capitals dominated the third period but still lost for the fifth time in seven games as Georgiev came up with several big saves.
“It’s been a really good stretch of defense for us,” Georgiev said.
Ovechkin’s one-timer at 9:44 of the third was his 811th goal after he missed his first game of the season Saturday with a lower-body injury.
“I don’t want to say I was 100%, but I was able to play,” Ovechkin said.
Washington was without T.J. Oshie, who left to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child. And Nicklas Backstrom was a late scratch with a non-COVID illness.
Then Tom Wilson exited in the second period after blocking a shot and underwent an X-ray between periods.
“Right now he’s day-to-day with a lower-body (injury),” coach Peter Laviolette said.
The Avalanche, who haven’t trailed during their win streak, solved Kuemper at 8:57 of the first when MacKinnon absorbed Dmitry Orlov’s big hit and fed Lehkonen for his 15th goal and sixth in six games.
Cogliano redirected Kurtis MacDermid’s shot 2:04 into the second to make it 2-0. Sheary cut the lead in half when he tipped in Martin Fehervary’s shot for his 12th goal just over two minutes later.
HE BROKE THE CUP
It also marked the return of Washington’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who had 22 points in 67 games for the Avs in 2021-22, He’s remembered for dropping and denting the Cup during the on-ice celebration.
“It’s part of my journey here,” a smiling Aube-Kubel said of his fumble, adding the season was “the best time of my life.”
NOTES: Avs D Cale Makar (upper body) practiced Monday and took part in the morning skate, but missed his fourth straight game. ... Avs W Anton Blidh cleared waivers and skated on the fourth line. ... Aliaksei Protas centered Washington’s third line in his first NHL action since Jan. 5 and was robbed by Georgiev in the first period. ... The Capitals have only four games left outside the Eastern time zone.
Capitals: Host Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Avalanche: Host Anaheim on Thursday night.
AP NHL: www.apnews.com/hub/NHL and www.twitter.com/AP_Sports