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Top line of the Colorado Avalanche gets along off the ice, dominates on it

TORONTO — Apart from the all-world skill displayed on a nightly basis, Mikko Rantanen has a simple explanation for why he works so well with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. They get along away from the rink.

TORONTO — Apart from the all-world skill displayed on a nightly basis, Mikko Rantanen has a simple explanation for why he works so well with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

They get along away from the rink.

Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog have wreaked havoc across the NHL this season, registering a gaudy 187 points through 46 games.

While the team has struggled recently, the trio continues to put up big numbers, including two goals in Monday's 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs that ended an ugly run of nine losses in the team's last 10 games.

"I don't think there's one line where guys hate each other off ice and can play together fine," Rantanen said before the matchup with Toronto. "That's the biggest thing.

"We have three different kinds of players. That's why it's working."

Finland's Rantanen sat in a three-way tie with Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau for second in NHL scoring heading into Tuesday's action with 69 points (21 goals, 48 assists), Canada's MacKinnon was three back in fifth (26 goals, 40 assists), and Sweden's Landeskog was knotted for 17th with 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists).

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves," Landeskog said. "That's what's pushed us through the whole season. That's something that's going to motivate us moving forward.

"You expect good things out of yourself and you want to be good for the team. Ultimately that's what we're all trying to do. We take a lot of pride in what we do."

Colorado was tied for first in the Western Conference on Dec. 8 before an ugly 3-10-3 stretch that ended with Monday's victory in Toronto.

Landeskog got the Avalanche, who came into Scotiabank 1-7-2 over their last 10, on the board with a nifty deflection to cut a 2-0 deficit in half before Rantanen picked Nazem Kadri's pocket and roofed shot past Frederik Andersen to tie the game.

"We want to be a dominating line every time we step on the ice," Landeskog said. "It's a team game, but no doubt we want to contribute."

Colorado is one of just a couple of teams — the Boston Bruins with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is the other that immediately comes to mind — content to load up its first line with top-end talent instead of spreading the offence around.

"They like playing together, they're excited about playing together every night," Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said of his rationale. "They put a lot of responsibility on themselves.

"It's been working for us."

All this isn't to say the Avalanche lack ability further down the lineup.

Carl Soderberg scored his first-career hat trick against Toronto to give him 28 points, while Alexander Kerfoot has seven goals and 17 assists. On defence, Tyson Barrie has 33 points.

"We also have faith in every other line," MacKinnon said. "We have a good four lines. It looks like we're top-heavy because of our production, but we have a really solid forward group."

MacKinnon added the hard work put in by the rest of Colorado's forwards allows the top line to succeed.

"They play a lot of tough minutes," he said. "We're mostly in the offensive zone every shift and we're not taking defensive zone draws like the other guys have to.

"We owe a lot to them."

MacKinnon, who had a shouting match with Bednar during a recent loss that was quickly smoothed over, said if the coaching staff feels splitting the top line up is what's best for the team, he's on board.

"That would probably be a good thing," MacKinnon said. "It would be good to spread it out. We tried a little bit this year and we just kept coming back to the three of us. We tried at home for a few periods and it was OK.

"It's definitely something we should try (again) in the future."

But together or apart, Colorado's stars will continue to feel the heat as the team clings to a playoff spot ahead of Wednesday's visit to Ottawa against the Senators that wraps up a five-game Canadian road trip.

"We feel a lot of pressure," MacKinnon said. "To give our team the best chance to win we're going to have to produce."


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press