After suffering their worst blowout loss of the season against an elite Washington Capitals team, Saturday night the Colorado Avalanche were looking to rebound against the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets. Although the Blue Jackets got off to a hot start to open the season, they’ve hit a recent skid, going 2-8-5 in their last 15 games. They were looking to turn things around Saturday night in what was their first matchup of a four game road trip.
For the Avs, this was the final contest of a five game home stand, and having won two and lost two in the first four games, the Avs needed a win to make it a successful home stand. Fortunately for the Avs, one of their leading scorers and veteran leaders in Milan Hejduk was returning to the ice after missing two games with a knee injury.
The Avalanche struck quick as Chris Stewart raced away from the pack and scored a nice breakaway goal just 20 seconds into the period. This was Stewart’s 8th goal of the season and his sixth in the last ten games.
The Avs wasted no time adding to their lead. They immediately applied pressure, got off some good shots, and Wojtek Wolski eventually slapped in a rebound-goal at the 3:22 mark. Just 30 seconds later, the Avs went on a power play and Wolski scored yet another goal to give the Avs a 3-0 lead before you could even blink.
For Wolski, this was his second goal of the night, his team-leading 15th of the season, and his fourth in the last seven games. Going into the game, Wolski and Stewart were the two hottest players for the Avs, and they continued to come through big for the team as they combined to score three goals within the first five minutes of the game.
Then at the 8:02 mark, Colorado took advantage of another power play opportunity with solid pressure and tight passing that led to another Avalanche goal, this time by Paul Stastny. After an explosive and dominant start, the Avs went into the locker-room with a comfortable 4-0 lead.
However, the Avs let themselves get dominated in the second period. Just four minutes in, an Avalanche interference penalty on Brett Clark led to a power play goal by the Bluejacket’s R.J. Umberger. Later in the period, another Avs penalty, this time by newcomer Brandon Yip, led to another Blue Jacket power play. This power play was just about killed when suddenly the Blue Jacket’s Jason Chimera got off a sloppy shot that somehow trickled past Avs goaltender Brian Anderson. In a 2nd period that was replete with penalties on both sides, only the Blue Jackets were able to capitalize as they scored two power play goals to cut the lead in half at 4-2.
After taking the second period off, the Avs decided that they would play in the third. They opened the period landing several hits against the boards and refusing to let the puck into their defensive zone. Much of the third period action went back-and-forth until the Avs’ Milan Hejduk pushed the puck into the net with just 3:30 left in the game. This put the game away as the Avs left the ice with a 5-2 victory.
“We had a sour taste in our mouths after that loss to Washington, so we definitely came out with a point to prove,” said Stewart, who scored the first goal of the game just 20 seconds into the first period.
Stewart was recalled from Lake Erie two months ago, and since his promotion he has become a prominent force in the Avs’ offense.
“Lake Erie’s still a memory, and I don’t want it to become a reality, so I gotta just take every minute for what it’s worth and come to the rink and be ready to work,” said Stewart. “I’m trying to just simplify my game, clear room for the guys I’m playing with, and when I get a scoring chance, to just bury it.”
An impressive factor of Saturday night’s win was that it showed the Avs resilient ability to recover from tough losses. Following their worst blowout loss of the season, they rebounded diligently with an early offensive eruption that proved to be enough to get the victory.
“We came out strong,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “Stewart got the big goal in that first shift, and then we just fed off that in the 1st period, and that’s the way we wanna set the tone…we came out with lots of energy and lots of jump in our game. It’s a good way to respond. Our guys have done a really nice job as far as responding this year.”
The Colorado victory, accompanied with a Calgary loss earlier in the day, put the Avs back on top of the Northwest division.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Hejduk, who celebrated his return to the ice with a third period goal that sealed the win.
Of the Avs’ success, Hejduk joked, “If you told me it would be like this when the season started, I’d probably say you were kidding, so I’ll take it!”
Next up for the Avs is a trip to Minnesota where they’ll face a Wild team that has dominated them all season. If the Avs are going to sustain this momentum, they’ll have to figure out how to beat Minnesota on Monday night.