Pavelski evens series with OT Winner in Game 4

Ironically, the Colorado Avalanche played much better hockey in Tuesday night’s loss to the San Jose Sharks than they did in their dramatic Sunday night win

For the third straight contest, overtime was needed to decide a victor, and this time the Sharks scored their overtime goal in the correct net to win the game 2-1 and tie the series at 2-2, with Game 5 scheduled for Thursday in San Jose. The overtime hero for the Sharks was Joe Pavelski, who—halfway through the extra period—managed to skate through three Avs defenders and wrist the puck into the net to give his team the much-needed win.

“I was just trying to find an opening so I could hopefully get a shot on-net,” said Pavelski about his game-winner.

“[Pavelski’s shot] came through some legs so it was a good shot and there’s not much else to say,” said Avs goalie Craig Anderson. “I think we played well tonight.  We deserve a different fate, but at the same time you have to give [the Sharks] credit.”

The Avs did play well, especially compared to their last performance. They skated in the neutral zone much better, won races to the puck, cleared the puck out of their defensive zone with more efficiency, and were able to build and sustain some offensive pressure of their own.

Although the Avs were once again outshot by the Sharks, they narrowed the margin to a 45-34 difference (as opposed to the glaringly lopsided 51-17 difference in Game 3). Also, the Avs blocked twice as many shots as the Sharks, landed more hits (30-22), and won the face-off battle 35-29.

“Tonight I thought we responded well,” said Avs head coach Joe Sacco. “I thought we had more energy than the last game. But when it gets into overtime it just takes one good shot and that’s what happened tonight.”

The Avs Paul Stasny kicked off the game with a high-sticking penalty just seconds into the game. The Sharks wasted no time scoring on the power play, as the Sharks’ Ryane Clowe passed the puck behind him to Dan Boyle who, from the top-left circle, slapped a rocket into the net to give the Sharks an early 1-0 lead. This was the Sharks’ first lead in regulation for the series.

For Boyle it was a goal of sweet redemption, as it was his blunder that put the Game 3 win in the Avs column. 

“It was nice to see Danny Boyle score right off the bat,” said Sharks head coach Todd McClellan. “I think that put Game 3 to rest in his mind and probably a lot of other players’ minds, and so it was a real good start for us.”

Much of the first period looked like a continuation of Sunday’s game, with San Jose controlling the neutral zone, winning races to the loose pucks, and absolutely dominating the action while the Avs could barely cross the Sharks’ blue line.  Once again the puck seemed forever stuck in the Avs defensive zone by some strange magnetic force. 

Towards the end of the first period the Avs offense suddenly came to life as they brought incessant waves of pressure onto the Sharks side of the ice and launched many good shots on-net. Despite the revitalized offense, the Avs were unable to score, and they went to the locker room down 1-0.

Just over four minutes into the second period, a penalty on the Sharks’ Rob Blake gave the Avs their first power play of the night, and the Avs also wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity. In the opening seconds of the power play, Stasny won the face off in the Sharks’ zone, John-Michael Liles took a slap shot from the point, and a well-positioned Stasny deflected the puck into the net to tie the game at 1-1. The goal also provided the Denver crowd with a much-needed energy boost.

The rest of the period two saw action go back and forth with each defense doing an excellent job of breaking up plays and clearing the puck to extinguish any threats. At the close of the period, the Sharks brought a surge of pressure and got off a few good shots, but Anderson was once again ready for the intensity and made one brilliant save after another to keep the game tied.

Both teams looked tentative at the start of the third stanza, with each team skating very carefully to ensure that they didn’t commit the fatal game-deciding mistake. At the 13:00 mark, the Sharks took charge of the ice and brought steady offensive heat, but Anderson was willing to play hero again as he stopped each threat by making a series of great saves without allowing any rebounds. 

The final minutes of regulation found the Avs in the Sharks zone launching good shots towards the net, but Sharks’ goalie Evgeni Nabokov also played the role of hero by making crucial stops against the Avalanche rush. With solid defense and even better goaltending on both sides of the ice, neither team could score and for the third straight game overtime was needed to settle the issue.

The first half of the overtime period yielded good chances for each team, but once again the net-minders took turns making great saves to keep the game tied. Then, around the 10:00 of the extra session, Pevelski zipped through three Avs defenders and scored with a beautiful top-shelf goal to give the Sharks the win and to even up the series at 2-2.

“It’s a best of three now, and that’s all we’re going after,” said McClellan, who credited much of the win to the solid play of Nabokov. “Nabby made some very good saves…you could feel our bench settle down, so it was really important that Nabby performed the way he did tonight.”

Anderson also played a gem of a game between the posts for the second game in a row, albeit in a loss. After Boyle scored his power play goal just one minute into the game, Anderson withstood one shark attack after another, blanking the top seeded Sharks for 59 minutes in regulation and 10 minutes of overtime to keep the Avs in the game.

“The guys have battled all series long, and tonight’s no exception,” said Anderson. “We battled hard all night tonight, and we did what we could. Obviously we’d like a better result, but at the end of the day, we can look ourselves in the mirror and know we gave it all.

“We just didn’t get the bounce tonight. We’d like to see it the other way, but obviously that’s the way it happened tonight.”

“We played a good game tonight and it could’ve gone either way. It’s playoff hockey, it’s a battle,” said Avs captain Adam Foote. “We’re playing a heck of a series. [The Sharks] are battling hard; they’ve come out with their A game these last two nights, but we’re competing and showing a lot of passion, showing that our young guys are fightin’ them, and we’re gonna keep going.”

The Avs played more like a playoff team Tuesday night.

“I liked our energy,” said Sacco. “I liked the way we spent more time in the offensive zone tonight, I thought we were able to sustain our fore-check and able to keep the play in their end more than we did last game. I think we’re competing hard, I think our guys are really laying it on the line, and those are some positive things that you can take out of that game and moving  into the next one.”

Though Anderson seems to be wearing a cape and is very eager to play postseason hero for the Avalanche, if the Avs are going to have a chance to win the series they’re going to need to utilize their superior skating abilities to generate offensive pressure and score goals.

“I always go back to the identity of our team: trying to use our speed, trying to play aggressive, making sure that we fore-check hard, and trying to take away time and space from the opposition,” said the Avs coach. “We’re just trying to go back to things we’ve done well in the past.”

With the series tied, the pivotal Game 5 takes place Thursday night in San Jose.

“Now what we have is a best of three series,” said Sacco, echoing McClellan’s summation. “So I look forward to the next game.”

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