Goaltender Darcy Kuemper injured as Colorado Avalanche outlast Edmonton Oilers in series opener

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche hung on to defeat the Edmonton Oilers 8-6 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night, but the home team lost starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper to an upper-body injury in the process.

Kuemper was late returning to the ice when the second period began, and then left for good at the first TV timeout. He finished with 13 saves on 16 shots. Backup Pavel Francouz backstopped Colorado the rest of the way in an 18-save performance.

Avs coach Jared Bednar had no update on his goaltender after the win.

"We'll see," was all Bednar said when asked if Kuemper's issue was day-to-day or something potentially longer term.

Depending on the severity of Kuemper's ailment, his extended absence could create a noticeable momentum swing in the series.

Kuemper has been solid throughout the postseason, producing a 6-2-0 record with a .904 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average heading into the conference finals. And he's coming off a terrific regular season (37-12-4, .921 SV%, 2.54 GAA) that helped Colorado gain strong positioning for the playoffs.

The 32-year-old was set to play an integral role in lifting Colorado past Edmonton and its bevy of electrifying offensive stars -- namely forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl -- who will attempt to feast on Francouz given the opportunity.

That was already apparent in how Francouz fared coming off the bench. He entered the game when it was 6-3, and gave up goals to McDavid, Derek Ryan and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins late to allow Edmonton to get within one with over seven minutes remaining in regulation.

"We didn't plan to play such a game," Francouz said, "but we'll take the win. It's obviously easier [to come in] if you have a pretty good lead, so I think that kind of helped us for sure. I didn't feel cold for like five seconds; I was warm pretty quickly. That wasn't an issue. We all know what kind of players are on these two teams and we didn't plan to play such a game, but we take this win for sure, and we move forward."

Francouz hadn't been totally idle in the playoffs. He stepped in for Kuemper when Colorado's starter was sidelined in Game 3 of the Avalanche's first-round sweep of Nashville. Predators forward Ryan Johansen accidentally hit Kuemper in the eye with a stick, and he missed the remainder of that series before returning healthy for the second-round matchup against St. Louis.

Filling in for Kuemper, Francouz went 2-0-0 with a .902 SV% and a 2.97 GAA while closing out Nashville.

Kuemper's exit wasn't the only goalie drama in Game 1, either. The Oilers also flipped from Mike Smith to Mikko Koskinen in the second period, after Smith allowed a sixth goal to put Edmonton in a 6-3 hole.

Smith finished with 19 saves (760 SV%) to Koskinen's 20 stops (.952 SV%).

The 40-year-old Smith also got the hook in Game 1 of Edmonton's second-round series against Calgary, when he gave up three goals in six minutes to start the first period.

While Smith could make light of the fact that "obviously, we don't like Game 1s," he was clearly unhappy with how this one played out.

"When you're on the bench halfway through the game, it's not a good sign," Smith said. "In saying that, it's one game and I've been in this position before, so you park it. It's a long series."

In the end, it was a tight loss for the Oilers, where an unsuccessful -- and controversial -- offside challenge still loomed.

When Cale Makar lit the lamp with just 13 seconds left in the first period, Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft challenged the play for being offside. The NHL upheld the goal, though.

The issue at hand was whether Valeri Nichushkin had made it back across the blueline before Makar carried the puck into Edmonton's end. Woodcroft didn't think he did. The NHL's explanation for the goal standing was that Makar pushed the puck into the zone but didn't himself cross the blueline until Nichushkin had tagged up. Therefore, the play was onside.

The unsuccessful challenge not only upheld the Avalanche's 3-2 lead, but Nazem Kadri also scored 32 seconds into Colorado's ensuing power play.

Woodcroft believes he made the right call in challenging, and still thinks it shouldn't have counted. But on a night when 14 pucks found mesh, Woodcroft was more concerned about what Edmonton conceded throughout.

"We didn't win or lose this game because of that call," he said. "It's not about what you get sometimes, it's what you give up. Things happen in hockey games, you have to move on. We didn't get the kill, that was disappointing for us. We gave up too many goals against and we have some work to do to clean it up."