Devastation in Denver

There’s plenty of reasons to shed sympathy on the Colorado Avalache fans at the Pepsi Center Monday night, for the Avalanche faithful had to endure two waves of severe disappointment: one before the game and one just after the puck dropped.

Before the game, the excited Avs fans were eagerly anticipating the chance to give a standing ovation and shout roars of appreciation for Avalanche legend Peter Forsberg, who was returning to the Denver ice wearing an Avs uniform for the first time since retiring from the sport three years ago. Earlier in the afternoon, however, Forsberg announced in an emotional pre-game press conference that he was hanging up the skates forever and officially retiring from hockey.

“Im gonna retire from the game of ice hockey,” Forsberg said. “One thing’s for sure: I’m not gonna be able to second-guess myself. I really tried, and I tried and I tried, and I’m really sure about my decision this time.

“About six weeks ago I felt better than I had felt in a long time, and I thought I owed it to myself to give it one more shot. Last Sunday I decided to give it a shot. But after this weekend I came to the sad conclusion that I was gonna have to retire.”

The news came as a surprise to the Avalanche community. Forsberg signed a one-year contract with the Avs February 6th after practicing with the team and deliberating the decision of a comeback for about three weeks. Since his return, Forsberg played two games for the Avs on the road. During those two games, Forsberg demonstrated that he still had the talented ability to handle the puck, maneuver on his skates and pass with excellent precision. However, he lost the superior speed that he possessed in his youthful prime and he also seemed to lose stamina and get tired late in the games. Either way, a great career of enormous success–including seven All-Star Game appearances, two stanely cups and two Olympic gold medals for Sweden–is officially over.

“I played hockey all my life, but I came to this decision that I had played my last and final game,” Forsberg said. “Toward the end of [the first game] I could feel that my foot was slipping a little bit. When I came home, I had promised [my fiancé] that I wouldn’t play if I couldn’t defend myself on the ice, and so I gave it up. It’s been eight years since I’ve been battling this [foot] problem, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

“It’s disappointing I couldn’t play here [in Denver] tonight,” added Forsberg. “I really wanted to come back and play the last 30 games here and have a good time and maybe help the team get into the playoffs. But yesterday, when I thought about it, I couldn’t get on the ice today, skate around with people expecting me to be good and cheering, and then retire the next day. I thought It was better to make the decision today…It’s disappointing not to be able to go out on my own terms…but looking back, I feel good about my career.”

Meanwhile, the Avs had a game to play Monday night, and making the disappointment of their fans even more painful was the terrible hockey played by the Avs once the refs dropped the puck. Before they could even blink, the Calgary Flames won the face off, took the puck down the ice, and just 18 seconds into the game David Moss knocked the puck past Avs goaltender Peter Budaj and into the net to quickly put Calgary up 1-0.

At the 5:50 mark of the first period, the Flames went on a power play due to the Avs having too many men on the ice. Just seven seconds into the man advantage, Flames defenseman Anton Babchuk launched a slap shot past Budaj to extend the Flames lead to 2-0.

After giving up two goals on just four shots, Budaj was pulled by Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco in favor of goaltender Craig Anderson.  Sacco’s strategy didn’t help, however, as the Flames added three more goals in the next six minutes. One of these goals was netted from a Jarome Iginla wrist shot, another score was tallied by a Curtis Glencross wrister, and the last was courtesy of an Olli Jokinen backhand shot. After a shocking and disappointing 20 minutes, the large Denver crowd was stunned to see their beloved Avs take the lockerroom down 5-0.

Throughout the rest of the game, the Flames added four more goals to increase the Avalanche humiliation (scored by Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross , Jarome Iginla and Matt Stajan, respectively). The Avs managed to score a goal in the second period goal on a Daniel Winnick deflection, but when the game mercifully ended they had to suffer the pain and embarrassment that comes with losing a 9-1 massacre on their own ice and against division rivals.

“Completely unacceptable,” proclaimed an infuriated Paul Stastny after the game. “Unacceptable leadership, unacceptable play, and it’s almost embarrassing. It’ll never happen again and we should be ashamed of ourselves. “

“We gotta play harder,” said Avs defender John-Michael Liles. “I think it’s obvious that we got out-played, and it’s embarrassing.”

A key problem that has haunted the Avlanche during their losing stretch is getting off to bad starts and being unable to recovery from those bad starts.

“We gave up a score on the first shift and then took an offensive penalty and gave up a power play goal right away,” said Sacco. “It’s two nothing before you could even get in your seats, and we’re a fragile team so we had a tough time responding.”

The Avs have been struggling immensely since the All-Star break, and as embarrassing as being destroyed 9-1 on their own ice is, making the loss even more agonizing was that it extended the Avs current losing streak to eight. Furthermore, with each loss the slim hopes of the Avs making the playoffs diminishes more and more, and a loss against Calgary—who was just ahead of the Avs in the standings to start the night—is especially devastating.

“We gotta find a way to get out of it,” said Sacco. “We gotta work through this to get out of it. We’re back on our heals and we’re a fragile team right now.”

The Avs will have to rebound from this painful loss against an elite –yet wounded—team in the Pittsburgh Penguins, who come to Denver Wednesday night.

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