Logan O’Connor shines in chippy Avalanche game — just the kind he likes

SEATTLE — When Jared Bednar told Logan O’Connor and the Colorado Avalanche’s fourth line to take the ice a minute into Tuesday’s game, the right winger had a feeling the Seattle Kraken would have its first line playing. The Kraken had started the game with their second line, so their top trio was almost certain to get the next shift.

For O’Connor, that meant going against Jordan Eberle. That meant a chance for retribution.

Back in April, with the Colorado Avalanche and Seattle deadlocked in Game 6 of their first-round series, Eberle checked forward Andrew Cogliano head-first into the boards, giving him two fractures in his neck. The hit, which did not lead to a suspension, infuriated the Avalanche and led to a painful summer for Cogliano, who re-signed with the Avalanche in free agency. Seattle ended the series with a win in Game 7, and an offseason apart didn’t abate the tension between the two teams. It lingered like puddles on the Seattle sidewalks and — with O’Connor and Eberle on the ice together — showed itself early in the first Avalanche-Kraken showdown of the 2023-24 season.

As the forwards skated in the same direction, O’Connor asked Eberle to fight. The Seattle veteran dropped his gloves right away.

“I know it was maybe looming over some guys a little bit, looming over me a bit,” O’Connor said. “He knew what he had to do, which I give him credit for. He knew the hit last year was probably cheap, cost Cogs the rest of that series — which wasn’t much, obviously — but then the summer, too, recovering. It was good to get it out of the way.”

Eberle, who is friends with Cogliano after playing with him in Edmonton, has nearly 1,000 games of NHL experience. But the bout with O’Connor was only the third of his career, and Colorado’s wing definitely looked like the more experienced fighter. He landed a half dozen punches before the referees separated them.

“Any time you see a guy sticking up for his teammate, that’s the kind of guy you want on your team,” added Colorado’s Ross Colton, who fought O’Connor twice while playing against Colorado with Tampa Bay. “Usually I’m on the receiving end of OC beating me up, so it’s kind of nice to be on his side watching that.”

Aside from the fight, there was plenty of evidence that the two teams didn’t like each other. Cale Makar, who was suspended in the playoff series for a high, late hit on Jared McCann, heard boos the moment he touched the puck for the first time, and Josh Manson and Vince Dunn got in a shoving match minutes later. The crowd jeered at Nathan MacKinnon as he argued a penalty call in the second period.

O’Connor, a strong skater who has carved out a bottom-six role in Colorado, has no problems playing in that type of game. His tenacious nature is suited for intense contests. He finds them fun.

“He’s going to play as hard as he can, use his skating to his advantage,” coach Bednar said. “He’s willing to do all the little things that it takes to have success. He’s bought into his role and (into) trying to be a difference maker within that role.”

Those attributes have made the 27-year-old someone Bednar consistently relies on to handle less-than-glamorous — though still vital — responsibilities. O’Connor often starts shifts in the defensive zone and is a key member of Colorado’s penalty kill, which has started the season 13-for-13. During the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2022, he teamed up with Cogliano and Darren Helm on a fourth line that earned Bednar’s praise all postseason.

Helm is now retired, but O’Connor still plays on a line with Cogliano. Though O’Connor standing up for a teammate shouldn’t have come as a shock — he’s frequently willing to drop the gloves and already fought  Alex Laferriere of the Los Angeles Kings in the season opener — it especially made sense against Seattle because of his relationship with Cogliano.

“That’s his partner on the penalty kill, his linemate,” Bednar said.

And one of his mentors.

“I’ve played with a lot of good veterans over the years, but he’s taken me under his wing more than anyone else probably,” O’Connor said. “He’s had an amazing career and a long career for a reason. It’s his details, his habits. … It’s been a privilege to learn from him.”

The fight only just began O’Connor’s night. After getting out of the box, he helped kill four Seattle power plays, the third of which was particularly eventful. Early in that kill, O’Connor tried clearing a puck, but it ended up flying into the Kraken bench and struck assistant coach Dave Lowry, drawing blood. (Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol said postgame that Lowry is fine.)

Shortly after the scare, O’Connor’s speed created consequences for the Kraken. When Makar cleared a puck, O’Connor noticed it bounce oddly off the boards. Thinking it might have a chance to get by Dunn, who was on the ice for the Kraken, he burst up ice. Sure enough, he was able to gain a step on the Seattle defenseman and seize possession at the top of the offensive zone faceoff circle. He cut toward the net with open ice in front of him.

Three nights earlier, during a shorthanded rush against the San Jose Sharks, O’Connor rang a shot off the crossbar, missing a chance at his first goal of the season. This time he wasn’t going to let iron get in his way. He skated in front of goalie Philipp Grubauer and whipped a wrist shot over his glove for what ended up being the game-winning goal.

“On the PK he plays fast. He limits chances, he gets on guys quick,” Colton said. “I’m sure we’ll see that all season with (him) getting odd-man rushes because he plays the game fast and the right way.”

After the goal, O’Connor skated back toward Colorado’s side of the ice, his stick over his head. Makar and Toews rushed to greet him in celebration. In fitting fashion, so too did the other forward on the ice — Cogliano.

(Photo of Logan O’Connor, center, celebrating his game-winning goal: Steven Bisig / USA Today)

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