Twas the night before Christmas Eve and the Colorado Avalanche played host to the Minnesota Wild. The Avs were looking to bounce back from an embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, and hoping to go into the holiday break with a win.
With the terrible start to the Kings game, it should have been expected that the Avs would have come out strong and thrown everything at Wild goalie, Niklas Backstrom. To the contrary, the Wild came out with more energy and took the game in hand right from the drop of the puck.
The Wild must have remembered the last game played at the Pepsi Center, back on November 27th, when the Avs handed the Wild a 7-4 beating.
Despite the strong start from the Wild, the Avs were given the first power-play chance in the game. The Avs being a strong team on the power-play at home, this was a golden-opportunity to take the lead.
Thirty seconds later, that golden-opportunity turned disastrous when the Avs gave Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck a breakaway. Initially, the power-play was intact due to the save made by Avs goalie Craig Anderson. After the save, the puck was left out in the open and the Avs defense didn’t see Matt Cullen follow up to score the short-handed, empty-net goal.
Still on the same power-play, the Avs David Jones sent a shot to the net and at first it looked as if Backstrom had the puck in his glove, but Jones followed the play and found the puck next to Backstrom’s pad, and tipped it past him for his 12th goal of the season.
After the goal, the Avs seemed to have a little bit more life in them, but were still unable to maintain control of the puck. With many defensive-zone turnovers, it wasn’t a surprise when the Wild scored their second goal in the first period. The goal, however, came off a bounce from the boards behind the net, with a strong shot off the stick of Marek Zidlicky from the point. After the bounce, the puck came behind Anderson and Cullen tipped it in to give the Wild the lead again.
At the start of the second, the Avs did their best to try and take control of the game, but that was stopped-short when David Koci committed a roughing penalty early in the period.
It didn’t take Andrew Brunette long to score the power-play goal, which again came off a strong shot from the point and the boards. This led Avs Coach Joe Sacco to pull Anderson who gave up three goals on 14 shots, and when Budaj hit the ice, cheers rang throughout the Pepsi Center.
“I felt at that time we needed to make a change,” said Sacco. “I felt it was the right time to make a change. Craig (Anderson) knows that he knows needs to play better.”
“It’s kind of been a problem for me lately,” stated Anderson. “Be in the right place, think about it, work on it. Make sure I’m on top of it and go forward.”
The Avs seemed to receive the message that they weren’t playing well, but it took them a little bit to finally get things moving. Towards the end of the period, the Avs were starting to control the flow of the game, and sending many pucks toward the Wild net. Backstrom, despite the weak power-play goal given, stayed strong and made quite a few strong saves against the Avs.
Budaj turned aside 10 shots in the second, but wasn’t challenged at all by the Wild.
Twenty-two seconds into the third, Avs forward Daniel Winnik committed a tripping penalty. Although this gave the Wild a good chance to seal the game, the Avs didn’t allow one shot on net during the penalty-kill, a key for a successful come-back.
Five and a half minutes later, Wild defenseman Marco Scandella and Avs forward Greg Mauldin collided in the Wild end. Scandella got up immediately, but Mauldin remained on the ice for several minutes. Mauldin then got up under his own power, and headed to the Avs locker room.
Mauldin never returned to the game and his status will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
What inevitably happened was a back and forth style game, which saw both goalies standing on their heads. Some action in each end of the ice, but the score remanded the same.
With two minutes to go, Sacco pulled Budaj in hopes to get a late-period goal, but to no avail; the come-back fell short.
“Got to give him (Backstrom) credit, he played great,” stated Jones. “At the end of the third period we were peppering him pretty good. He stood in there. It’s going to be tough to win a game by one goal.”
Although Budaj played very strong and gave the Avs a chance to win, Backstrom remained strong in net, preventing the Avs from coming back to steal a win.
“As the game went on, I don’t think that the guys quit,” said Sacco. “We fought hard in that third period; we just couldn’t get anything be him (Backstrom) there.”
In the previous two games, the Avs have only managed to score one goal, something a bit askew for a team that leads the NHL with goals-for.
The Avs, along with the rest of the NHL, will have the next two days off for the holidays, and then return Monday the 27th, to host the Detroit Red Wings.