Wednesday night went from a standard night of hockey and transformed into a night of much needed redemption for the Colorado Avalanche, who are coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history. Not only did the Avs receive a beating from the Calgary Flames, but set another franchise record with their eight loss in a row.
With the reeling and banged-up Pittsburgh Penguins making a rare visit to Denver, the Avs were hoping that they could change their losing ways, as well as end their losing streak.
The first period was a bit of a see-saw match, with both teams going up and down the ice. Not many scoring chances were given up though, as each side was playing very defensively.
That was the pace of the game until the Avs got a spark mid-way through the first and started to send shot after shot towards the Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. However, just like the past eight games, the Avs had some chances but were unable to capitalize on them.
With little under three minutes left to go in the first, Brett Sterling found Joe Vitale rushing up the ice and fed Vitale a break-away pass. Vitale didn’t miss and sent the shot over the right should of Peter Budaj, giving the Pens the lead. The goal for Vitale was his first career NHL goal.
The Avs went into the first intermission down a goal, something that hasn’t been unusual lately, but what was unusual was that the Avs out-shot the Pens 11-10. Out-shooting an opponent in the opening stanza is something the Avs haven’t done in a very long time.
Defense wouldn’t be the theme for the second period, as both teams would send everything they had towards the goal. Before the back and forth action happened, the Avs had to kill a penalty early in the second. The Avs did a remarkable job of killing the penalty and used the kill to gain momentum.
It didn’t take Chris Stewart very long to score his 13th goal of the year and tie the game up at one. Stewart found himself on the doorstep and had Fleury on his side; Stewart slapped the puck into an almost empty net. Although it’s Stewart’s second goal since returning from his hand injury, it was his first goal he sent past a goaltender; his first goal was an empty-netter.
After Stewart’s goal, the pace got very intense and turned into a back and forth shoot-out between the two clubs. Both Budaj and Fleury were seeing the puck well and doing their best to control the rebounds. That was until Cameron Gaunce sent a shot from the point and past Fleury, who was screened by Avs and Pens players. Gaunce’s goal came at the 14:19 mark of the second and was his first career NHL goal.
Nevertheless, it only took the Pens 48 seconds to tie the game up at 2-2 when Jordan Staal scored his sixth goal of the season on a two-on-one break, sending the puck over Budaj’s left shoulder.
With less than three minutes to go, the Avs were given a chance to take the lead again, as Vitale committed a hooking penalty. With 30 second left to go in the Avs power-play, Pens forward Craig Adams was called for tripping, giving the Avs a five-on-three. However, the Avs were unable score on Fleury and the period would end in a 2-2 tie.
The Avs went into the locker room with a bit of confidence, compared to the last eight games they have played. At this point in the game, they were tied in both shots, 23 apiece, and goals, 2; and were playing significantly better then they have been.
Just as the second period started, the Avs found themselves killing an early penalty to begin the third, as Ryan O’Byrne was called for cross-checking. The Avs eventually killed the penalty and the only person who had a good scoring chance was Brandon Yip, as he had a breakaway but was stonewalled by Fleury.
The remainder of the third would be a closely played defensive-style kind of game. The Pens would get some chances as the Avs would commit one more penalty, but again could not take advantage.
It was apparent that both teams wanted to make sure that they got at least a point and would play for overtime.
The overtime period played just like the second period, as both team were skating up and down the ice and sending the puck towards the net. It felt as if the game was going to go into a shootout, but with a minute and a half left in the game, Kevin Porter was called for tripping in the offensive zone, giving the Pens a 4-on-3 power-play.
Porter’s penalty would be the nail in the coffin as Tyler Kennedy (12) scored with just 50 seconds left in OT to give the Pens the two points and send the Avs to their ninth straight loss, another franchise record. Kennedy found a rebound to the left of Budaj and would send it past the Avs goalie.
“It’s a tough break,” stated Budaj. “I think overall I think we worked very hard, we showed the compete level was high; we played very well defensively. Our P.K was stellar tonight, except the four on three is always tough.”
“I think both teams played desperate hockey out there,” said Paul Stastny. “Both teams had over thirty shots and it could have gone either way; unfortunately they got the bounce and the win.”
In a game were the Avs were hoping they could get some redemption from the beating on Monday, they came up short against a team who was also desperate for a win. Despite the loss, they were able to get a point and hopefully boost their self-esteem.
“I thought it was a game that had a lots of energy and lots of enthusiasm,” said Avs coach Joe Sacco. “I liked our effort better then last game. Both teams are missing a lot of key players out there. It was entertaining for sure. I thought the difference was that they capitalized on their four-on-three; we didn’t capitalize on our five-on-three. That really makes a big difference in the outcome of the game.”
The Avs head to San Jose on Saturday were they hope they can carry their strong play from tonight’s game into the hostile Shark Tank.