Having lost four home games in a row, the Colorado Avalanche were looking to turn the tide by beating the Buffalo Sabres at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Tuesday night. In a game that saw many sloppy moments as well as many brilliant and exciting moments, the Avalanche were able to accomplish their goal and skate away with a 4-3 overtime victory.
“It was great to find a way to win tonight, which was the bottom line,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco.
The first period saw a lot of back and forth hockey, with each team taking turns applying offensive pressure but with neither team able to score. Then, with under six minutes left in the period, a quick and explosive scoring frenzy began. From deep within the Avs’ zone, TJ Galiardi sent a long pass up the ice to Daniel Winnik who, with a one-on-one attack, launched a rocket slapshot past Sabres’ goaltender Ryan Miller and into the net to put the Avs up, 1-0.
Immediately after taking the lead, Avs defender Ryan O’Byrne committed a four minute double-minor penalty for high-sticking. The Sabres wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity, as just a few seconds into the power play Drew Stafford passed the puck through the center and Thomas Vanek readily pushed it into the net to tie the game, 1-1.
Within seconds and with the Sabres still on a power play, the Avs snatched a loose puck and brought it all the way down the ice. Winnik delivered a hard centering pass and Ryan O’Reilly one-timed the puck into the net for a short-handed goal that gave the Avs the lead again at 2-1.
The second period entailed more back and forth hockey with a lot of neutral zone struggles and with neither team willing to take control. Both teams suffered from sloppy puck-handling, poor passing and weak shooting, with neither team able to sustain any offensive pressure or manufacture any good scoring opportunities. Despite a couple of late power plays for each team, neither team could manage to score and the Avs went to the locker room for the second intermission still holding onto their 2-1 lead.
At the 4:28 mark of the third period, another quick scoring burst began. The Sabres brought a solid wave of offensive pressure into the Avs’ zone. From deep in the corner, Vanek passed the puck toward the center and Jason Pominville was able to gain control of the puck and slap it past Avs’ goalie Peter Budaj and into the net to tie the score, 2-2.
Then, just a few seconds later, the Sabres unleashed another offensive surge and from the side boards as Steve Montador wristed a laser beam past Budaj and into the far side of the net to give the Sabres their first lead of the night at 3-2.
The two quick goals by the Sabres appeared to anger the Avalanche, and Colorado immediately responded by bringing intense offensive pressure of its own and crowding the net. After launching a few hard shots on net, Matt Duchene emerged from the crowd to knock a rebound past Miller to tie the game, 3-3.
“It was a scrum,” Duchene said about his goal. “I was standing behind the net, I got up in front, the puck came right to me and I was able to put it in.”
The overtime was dominated by power plays. For the first half of the extra frame the Sabres went on a power play due to a Milan Hejduk tripping penalty. Despite some close calls, the Avs did an excellent job of killing the penalty.
Then it was the Avs turn to go on a power play as Tyler Ennis was penalized for high-sticking at the 2:32 mark. Prior to the overtime power play, the struggling Avs had been 0-for-15 with the man advantage. Just when it looked as though the Avs were going to make it 0-for-16 and that the game was headed for a shoot out, with 43 seconds left to play the Avs quickly brought the puck down the ice and into the Sabres’ zone. Tomas Fleischmann delivered a sharp centering pass and David Jones one-timed the puck into the net to give the Avs the much-needed win.
“[Fleischmann] took the puck wide,” said Jones regarding the game-winning goal. “The defenseman slipped trying to take away the pass, and he made a great play just to get it to me. Their goalie was pretty much playing in and so I had a wide-open net.”
Although it wasn’t the prettiest victory of the year, and though there were many sloppy moments in which the Avs were incessantly turning the puck over, they did a tremendous job in the third period responding to the Buffalo explosion that saw two Sabre goals scored within seconds of each other to give them the lead.
“We were mismanaging the game,” said Sacco. “We wanted to come out and put the puck deep, and we didn’t do that. We started to turn it over again, it got a little bit contagious and they capitalized a little bit on our mistakes, and so I let them know that there was still a lot of time left but that we needed to spend some time in the offensive zone. Then Duchene’s line came up with a big timely goal for us.”
“It’s great to get a win,” said Duchene. “We wanted to come out of that slump. I think we’ve been playing some really good hockey…If you look at the Detroit game or the Vancouver game, I think we easily could have won those; we just ran into hot goaltenders. So tonight was a great win and it was a fun way to do it.”
“It’s been four in a row we’ve lost at home,” said Jones. “We have a big stretch at home right now, and we need to win a lot of games here in front of our crowd. It’s nice to get the monkey off our back and we just have to carry this momentum into the next game.”
On Thursday night the Avs continue their homestand as the Phoenix Coyotes come to Denver.