After losing 10 straight games, last weekend the plummeting Colorado Avalanche ended the losing streak by tallying their first win in nearly a month.
The win was so fun, the Avs decided to do it again on Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who came to Denver for what was an entertaining matchup.
Trailing for most of the game, the Avs exerted a valiant third-period comeback to extend the game to overtime, and in the eventual shoot out Milan Hejduk tallied the winning goal to give the Avs a 5-4 win.
“Winning that last game against Edmonton gave us some confidence,” said Matt Duchene, “and we knew we were a good enough team to come back and win this game. It shows great character for our guys to come back.”
“It’s good,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco, “it’s two wins in a row for us, and hopefully we can continue to play like this.”
Tuesday night’s home victory for the Avs was also the first chance the Denver fans at the Pepsi Center got to celebrate a victory in almost two months.
“It’s nice [to win at home],” said Sacco. “Our fans want to see an entertaining game, and I thought our guys provided that tonight, I thought we played hard…It’simportant to play well at home — I’m a big believer in that — and I hope this will continue for us down the stretch.”
About two minutes into the game, the Blue Jackets attacked the Avalanche zone. Columbus forward Rick Nash beat Avs goaltender Brian Elliot, with a juke and swiftly backhanded the puck into an open net to give the Blue Jackets an early lead.
Colorado responded well, mounting a solid wave of offensive pressure. Avs forward Kevin Porter launched a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that bounced off of Blue Jacket goaltender Steve Mason’s chest, and a well-positioned Ryan O’Reilly knocked the rebound into the net to tie the game.
The rest of the opening frame was basic back-and-forth hockey, with neither team able to gain control of the action. Despite some close calls on both sides, neither team could bury a goal and the score remained locked at 1-1.
The Blue Jackets dominated the second period as the Avalanche offense slipped into a trance. As was the pattern during the Avs losing streak, throughout the entire period their offense was ineffective, stagnant and lethargic.
However, it was sloppy puck-handling that bit the Avs.
Halfway through the middle stanza and with Colorado on a much-needed power play, defenseman Erik Johnson skated the puck backwards into the Avs’ own zone, and Colubmus forward Derek Dorsett stole the puck, promptly centered it to Derek Mackenzie. Mackenzie pushed it into the net for a short-handed goal that put the Jackets’ ahead 2-1.
Six minutes into the third period, the Avs went on another power play; however they once again surrendered a devastating short-handed goal. This tally was courtesy of Blue Jacket center R.J. Umberger, who rushed the puck down the ice for a 2-on-1 attack and launched a slapshot that beat Elliot on the near-side to add cushion to the Jacket lead.
The alarm bell rang and the Avs offense woke up, suddenly unleashing a surge of pressure. Sustaining a relentless attack, a loose puck dangled in front of the Blue Jacket net, and in a mad scramble Duchene poked the puck passed Mason to bring the Avs within one at 3-2. Duchene’s goal also extended his scoring streak to five.
“Goal scoring is a streaky thing,” said Duchene. “You get confidence and the puck seems to bounce your way. A huge tribute goes to my line-mates; they’re playing unbelievable.”
Then, riding a burst of momentum, Avs defenseman Matt Hunwick demonstrated excellent skating skills as he slithered the puck through the Blue Jacket zone and weaved past all of the defenders. From the back boards, Hunwick delivered a sharp centering pass to Duchene who promptly slapped it into the net to tie the game at 3-3 with just over four minutes left to play.
Not wanting overtime, Umberger drove the puck down the ice, stormed the net and squeezed the puck between Elliot’s legs to give the Jackets the lead again with two minutes left in regulation.
The Avs didn’t quit, however. In the final seconds, a pulled goalie combined with a Jacket penalty gave the determined Avs a six on four attack, and with just 3.3 seconds left on the clock, Daniel Winnik snatched a loose puck from between the circles and slapped a blazing rocket into the net to tie the game, finally giving the Avs — and the patient Denver crowd — a valid reason to explode with excitement.
Elliot made a couple of brilliant saves in overtime to force a shootout. Milan Hejduk tallied the only shootout goal, and Elliot stonewalled the Jackets for three straight saves to give the Avs a rewarding victory.
“To take it to overtime was huge for us,” said an ecstatic Elliot after the win.
“They scored two goals in the third period. We don’t want to allow anything in the third, especially when we’re coming from behind, but we battled back hard, we got a lucky bounce and Winny put one away, so we were happy to get it to an overtime. Obviously we’ll try to get it to a shoot out if we can’t get any shots on net, and we got a nice [shoot out] goal from [Hejduk], and so that’s what we want.”
“Brian [Elliot] made some really big saves in overtime to help get us into the shoot out,” said Sacco. “He really came up with some huge saves for us.”
The most impressive aspect of the win was that the Avs demonstrated a resilient ability to battle through adversity, skate hard and make a come back to get a win in a game in which they trailed for most of regulation.
“It was nice for us to be able to persevere, come back and stick with it,” said Sacco. “The first period was a good start for us, the second period they outplayed us, but we were able to not quit, stick with it, and come back in the third.”
“We have to play the role of spoiler right now and we need to take pride in that,” said Elliot. “Everybody’s pretty much battling for a playoff position coming down the stretch here, and we don’t want to lose games — we want to win games — and so we’ll battle just as hard as anyone.”
In addition to spoiling the parties of teams trying to make the playoffs, the Avs also need to finish the season strong to solidify the team and enter the off season with confidence.
“We’re not going to lie over and die here,” asserted Duchene. “Obviously seasons are 82 games long, but the majority of this group is going to be together for years to come, and it’s building as a team year-by-year and game-by-game, and you want to get the most momentum you can possibly get going into the summer.”