Thursday night, the Colorado Avalanche went for their seventh straight win in what has been a very successful home stand. For the last game of the home stand, the Avs faced off against the Minnesota Wild in what was the sixth and final contest of the season between the two Northwest division rivals.
Minnesota has also been playing very good hockey recently, making a playoff push by going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. The Wild had beaten the Avs in four of their first five meetings, so if the Avs were going to keep their winning streak alive, they’d have to stop a hot team that has pretty much had their number this season.
The first period saw action go back-and-forth, but neither team was able to score. The Avs had a couple of opportunities to shoot on open nets but they shot wide of the posts each time, and while the Wild were able to launch few good shots on goal, each attempt was saved by Avs goaltender Craig Anderson. After a very evenly matched first period, both teams went to the locker room tied at goose-eggs.
Throughout the second period the stalemate continued as neither team could manage to score. The Avs got momentum off of two impressive penalty-kills but failed to convert the momentum into any goals. Meanwhile the Wild finished the period strong, bringing constant offensive pressure that had the Avs’ defense off-balance. But the Wild were also unable to capitalize on their momentum with any goals.
In a battle of the goaltenders, both Anderson and Wild goalie Josh Harding took turns making saves to keep the game scoreless, and they entered the third period with double goose-eggs still hanging up on the scoreboard.
For most of the third period the Avs’ defense was impenetrable, as they refused to allow the puck anywhere near their zone. However, as solid as the defense looked, the Avs’ offensive looked equally as sloppy. The Avs’ offense was able to bring consistent pressure into the Wild’s zone, but with repeated botched passes, weak off-target shots, and clumsy puck-control leading to turnovers, the Avs were unable to put the puck into the net.
Then, with just 4:49 left in regulation, the Wild suddenly brought the puck all the way down the ice, slapped a couple of shots on net, and eventually Martin Havlat pushed a rebound into the net for the first goal of the game, putting Minnesota up 1-0.
Down by a goal with less than 5 minutes to play, the Avs finally began skating and playing with a sense of urgency. Advantaged by a power play and a pulled goalie, the Avs went on a 6-on-4 attack for the closing minutes of the game, but their offense continued to sputter putter and they limped off the ice with a disappointing 1-0 shutout loss at home.
“We had a lot of opportunities to score, it’s just one of those nights where the puck wasn’t bouncing our way,” said Avs goalie Craig Anderson, who played a stellar game behind the net in the losing effort. “Very few times this year have we not gotten a goal, and unfortunately this is one of those rare occasions.”
If there’s any consolation to the loss, it’s that the Avs—barring playoffs—won’t have to face-off against the Wild for the rest of the season. The Avs have struggled more against the Wild than any other team, losing five out of six and capping it off by getting shut-out on their own ice in the matchup’s season finale.
“Let’s give them credit, they play very well defensively,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “[Wild goaltender Josh] Harding was squaring the puck tonight, he saw a lot of our shots, and so we have to make it more difficult on him. We gotta put people in front of him to make it easier on ourselves.”
Another reason the Avs couldn’t score was their sloppy play in the offensive zone. They continually misplayed passes, whiffed open shots, and squandered the puck with clumsy turnovers.
“We had our chances, our problem was scoring,” said Sacco.
The Avs penalty-kill team looked impressively dominant as they easily absorbed 5 straight penalties. The Avs didn’t go on a power play of their own until the third period.
Adding to the disappointment was that Anderson was playing a gem behind the net before Havlat scored the game’s only goal with just under 5 minutes left.
“We can’t allow that goal at that particular time,” said Sacco. “It wasn’t an odd-man rush or anything like that. We had bodies back, we just have to do a better job of not allowing them to score at that point.”
In what was an otherwise great home stand, the Avs lacked sharpness and laid an egg in the finale. Fortunately for the Avs, they won’t have to dwell on this tough loss for long, as Friday night they head to Dallas to take on the Stars.
“It’s a good thing we play tomorrow,” said Avs assistant captain Paul Stastny. “When you lose like this it’s best to get another game as quick as possible to forget about this one and get ready for the next.”