Sunday night the streaking Vancouver Canucks came to Denver to play the Colorado Avalanche in a heated matchup between the two division rivals. The Avalanche began the game in second place in the Northwest Division, six points behind the first place Canucks.
After a very intense and physical contest that left the crowd biting its collective nails until the end, Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo shined bright as the ‘Nucks were able to hold off the Avs and win, 2-1.
“Anytime you play those guys it’s just a matter of inches,” said Avalanche forward Paul Stastny. “And if one of ours that almost went in [got in] or if one of theirs doesn’t, it’s a whole different game.”
As soon as the puck dropped the physical aggression commenced, with the animosity between the two rivals being clearly demonstrated as they took turns landing big hits on each other. Aided by solid offensive pressure and a couple of power plays, the Avalanche spent most of the first period in the Canucks’ zone. However, despite having good scoring opportunities and launching many hard shots, Roberto Luongo’s stellar play kept the Avs off the scoreboard.
Then, with the Avs on a power play and 1:45 left in the period, the ‘Nucks snatched a loose puck, skated it down the ice with a two-on-one attack, and Alex Bolduc wristed the puck past Avs goaltender Craig Anderson for his first goal of his career, and the ‘Nucks a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes
The Avs once again brought serious waves of pressure onto the Canucks’ side of the ice in the second period, but once again they were unable to figure out how to get the puck past Luongo, who made one excellent save after another to keep the Canucks’ 1-0 lead intact.
The physical intensity also continued into the second period as an abundance of pummeling hits were being delivered on both sides. During one stoppage a shoving match nearly developed into an all-out team brawl, and the Avalanche wound up getting a power play out of all this after order was finally restored by the referees. However, the Avs struggled to set up their plays, couldn’t release any shots and were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
The Canucks began the final frame skating with fire. They brought a relentless surge of pressure onto the Avs’ side of the ice, and after passing the puck around the zone and launching multiple shots, the puck deflected off the glass and right to Vancouver forward Mason Raymond who promptly slapped it into the net to extend the lead to 2-0.
Then, with six minutes left in the game, the Avs’ offense finally scored on Luongo; bringing a wave of pressure on a good offensive shift, Stastny — who was positioned in front of the net — took a tight pass from Matt Duchene and back-handed the puck past Luongo to score. Although the refs at first ruled that Luongo had made yet another brilliant save and that it was not a goal, the ruling on the ice was overturned and Stastny scored his 300th career point to cut the Canucks lead down to one.
In the closing minutes of the game the Pepsi Center crowd was holding its breath as they watched their desperate Avs skate with determined rage and attack the Canuck zone with incessant fury. The Avs had the opportunities, but they were out dueled by Luongo and when the last second ticked off the clock a disappointed Avalanche team left the ice to mourn a tough loss.
“I’m disappointed because we missed two quality chances at the end,” said Stastny after the game. “We had chances to tie it and just couldn’t do it.”
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the loss for the Avs was the missed opportunities in which they had good chances to score but couldn’t connect with each other or with the net. However, their inability to hit the net was also due to Luongo — the game’s indisputable first star — looking like an impenetrable brick wall as he made one difficult save after another throughout the game.
“[Luongo] played a good game,” said Stastny. “He played his angles well…and he did a good job of controlling his rebounds; whether we shot it at his chest or whether he came out to play a good angle, it was tough to see net when he challenged us.”
Luongo made 31 saves and in the final few minutes withstood a massive Avs attack by making a series of beautiful saves to protect the lead and seal the victory.
“You know they’re going to shoot from everywhere and that they’re going to have guys crowding the net,” said Luongo of the last minute Avalanche rush. “You just want to seal the ice as much as you can and make sure you’re not giving anything down low or anything moving through…and we did a good job of not making mistakes and not letting them get any rebounds.”