Wednesday night was the second consecutive matchup in a home-and-home series pitting the Colorado Avalanche against the Los Angeles Kings. An exchange of power play goals forced overtime, and a shootout victory enabled the Avs to snag two crucial points in the standings. Monday night the contest was in LA, and the Avs snatched a point from the jaws of defeat with dramatic late-game heroics in the form of a game-tying goal with 10 seconds left.
The Avs have been sliding down the Western Conference ladder as of late. Entering the game, they sat in the seventh spot just two points ahead of Detroit and four points ahead of ninth place Calgary, and so with just ten games left of regular season action and Detroit and Calgary appearing closer in their rear view mirror, the Avs needed a victory.
The Avs struck first, as just 7:38 into the game they brought steady offensive pressure and Matt Hendricks scored on a nice wrap-around goal the trickled past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Kings wasted no time battling back. At the 10:00 mark Wayne Simmonds slapped the puck off of Avs goalie Craig Anderson, and Anze Kopitar backhanded the rebound into the net to tie it the score at one.
Then penalties became the story line of the game. With 7:18 left in the first period, a high-sticking penalty on the Kings’ Brad Richardson led to a four-minute power play for the Avs. While the Avs were passing the puck around the offensive zone, Peter Mueller delivered a perfect set-up pass to Milan Hejduk, who eagerly one-timed the puck into the net from the top-right circle.
Four consecutive Kings’ penalties kept the Avs on the power play and the Kings defense on the heals of their skates, and with two minutes left in the first period, the Avs used their advantage to score again. This goal was courtesy of Paul Stastny and the Kings’ defense. From behind the net Stastny dished out a centering pass, and the puck deflected off of Kings defender Drew Doughty and into the net, putting the Avs up 3-1 and knocking Kings goalie Jonathan Quick out of the game (to be replaced by Eric Ersberg).
The second period was a tightly-played defensive struggle. Each team did an excellent job of intercepting passes and clearing the puck to prevent any sustained offensive attacks. Also preventing any goals from being scored in the second period was the solid work between the pipes from both goaltenders, as Anderson and Ersberg each had to sprawl out multiple times to make impressive saves. After a very physical and defensive second period, the Avs’ 3-1 lead remained intact.
The Kings started the third period with a power play (for a Scott Hannan tripping penalty) before the second period buzzer. Just one minute into the third stanza, the Kings brought their five-on-four attack into the Avs’ zone. From the top of the key, Doughty wristed a laser-beam through traffic, past Anderson and into the net, cutting the Avs’ lead down to one goal.
A tense hush fell over the crowd as hauntings of the many late-game leads the Avs have surrendered this season filled the Pepsi Center. After 16 minutes of see-saw hockey, a penalty on the Avs’ Brett Clark led to a Kings power play. The Kings pulled their goalie to bring a heavy six-on-four attack, and with 1:21 left on the clock, Jarret Stoll launched a slap shot from the point and a well-positioned Alexander Frolov redirected the puck into the net to tie the game at three.
Ironically, the Avs and Kings reversed roles from Monday’s contest, and this time it was the Kings with a last-second dramatic goal to force overtime. While the overtime saw many close calls, neither team could score, and this time a shootout was needed to settle the issue.
In the shootout, Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart each scored to seal the victory and two points for the Avs.
“It’s disappointing that we gave up a couple of power play goals,” said Stewart. “But we got the two points and that’s all that matters… we still control our own destiny.”
Despite surrendering the tying goal late in the third period, Anderson net-minded a solid game and came through in the shootout to get his team the win.
“It felt pretty good [to be in the shootout]” said Anderson. “I haven’t done it in a while and I just wanted to make sure that I had a good gap…I read them all, that second one squeaked through, and then with that last one there was a little luck on my side.”
Although the Avs got the victory and the crucial two points, it was disappointing for Avs fans to see their club once again fail to hold on to a tight lead late. They have been struggling to close teams out all year, and this flaw of the Avs was exposed yet again on Wednesday night.
“It’s that time of the year,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “These games are tight right now. Just like what happened in Los Angeles: we came back and tied the game and then they did the same to us tonight. It’s hard to play with a lead in this league. These teams come after you pretty good, but we’re learning.
“Our power plays had a lot of urgency at the start of the game…we came out with good energy and were able to capitalize on some power plays.”
As good as the Avs power play team was—scoring two power play goals and bringing steady heat— Wednesday night their penalty kill team was equally as bad, surrendering two goals including the game tier with just over a minute left to play. Though the Avs penalty kill team has been successful all season, lately they’ve hit a skid.
“We gotta find a way to shut down other teams’ power plays,” said Anderson. “That’s gonna be different going down the stretch.”
“Certainly—it goes without saying—our penalty killing has to be better,” said Sacco. “We can’t allow this many power play goals. That’s something we’ll address at our next practice and we’re just gonna try to improve on it, but at this time of the year points are critical and that was a big two points for us tonight.”
With the two points the Avs were able to protect their two-point lead over Detroit, who also tallied a victory Wednesday night over the St. Louis Blues, and leap over Nashville to grab the 6-spot of the Western Conference with only nine games left in the season.
“It’s a big win,” said Avs center Matt Hendricks. “We haven’t beaten [the Kings] yet this year. It’s nice to be able to play against them at home, to have a big crowd, and to have two points under our belt. It’s a good feeling but we’ve got nine games left and a lot of work to do.”
The Avs do have a lot of work to do. They travel to the desert Saturday night to skate against the hottest team in the league, the Phoenix Coyotes.