Monday night the Colorado Avalanche finally found the fire that their skates had been missing for so long now. They had been struggling to get wins recently due to their lackluster skating and sloppy execution.
But in a tough battle against the St. Louis Blues, the Avs skated with determination and played strong for three full periods to earn an impressive 4-3 victory.
“It was a good hard game,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “We worked hard start to finish; I thought the guys had a business-like approach to the game tonight, we got off to a good start…and it was a good overall effort tonight by all the guys playing.”
The bitterness between the two teams was demonstrated immediately, as less than two minutes into the game the Blues’ Cam Janssen and Avalanche David Koci dropped their gloves to trade punches in what was a long fight that effectively energized both teams as well as the Pepsi Center crowd.
Throughout the first period the Avs brought multiple waves of pressure onto the Blues’ side of the ice, did an excellent job of keeping the puck in the zone, and launched many good shots on net. Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak was up to the task, however, and the Avs were unable to score. Late in the period the Blues also had some good scoring opportunities, but good defense by the Avs accompanied by solid goaltending by Peter Budaj kept the Blues from finding the net, and after a very physical opening period both teams went to the locker-rooms with goose-eggs still hanging up on the scoreboard.
Just over a minute into the middle stanza the Avs broke the scoreless tie. Avalanche Ryan Wilson snatched a loose puck inside the Blues’ territory, passed it behind him to a well-positioned Brandon Yip, who wristed a laser beam past Halak and into the net for the game’s first goal.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Brad Boyes delivered a nice centering pass to Jay McClement who tied things up at 1-1 at 12:09. This goal gave the Blues a burst of momentum as they began dominating the action on the ice.
With 6:53 left in the period the Blues continued their relentless attack, passed the puck around the Avs zone with clever precision, and a well-placed Eric Brewer unleashed a wrist shot that flew passed Budaj and into the net to give the Blues the lead.
Minutes later, a slashing penalty on the BJ Crombeen gave the Avs a huge chance on the man advantage. While on the power play, Yip launched a shot, got his own rebound, wrapped the puck around the net and squeezed it passed Halak to score his second goal of the night and to tie the game at 2-2.
“I found a little room in the middle,” Yip said about his goal. “I took the shot and was able to get the rebound and so I wrapped it around.”
The third period began with a lot of back and forth action, but at 12:32, a high-sticking penalty on Boyes put the Avalanche on a four-minute power play.
At first it appeared the Avs were going to fall into their usual routine of squandering great opportunities. They struggled to control the puck, set up plays or launch any shots. But in the final minute of the advantage the Avs generated an onslaught of pressure, passed the puck around the zone, and from the left circle Avalanche defender Kevin Shattenkirk faked out a Blues defender with a juke to clear some space and then wristed the puck into the far side of the net to give the Avs the 3-2 lead.
“I faked the pass, got a little bit of time, and Stoa had a great screen for me to set up the shot,” Shattenkirk said about his third period goal.
Then, with less than nine minutes left in regulation, Ryan Stoa skated through the St. Louis defenders for a hard breakaway and slammed the puck into Halak. Halak initially made the stop but he couldn’t contain the rebound as it trickled behind him and into the net to provide some cushion.
With just over a minute to play, the Blues — with an empty net — brought an intense surge of pressure into the Avs zone and David Backes beat Budaj with a wrist shot to cut the lead to 4-3.
In the final seconds the Blues continued to attack and threatened to score again with some good shots, however Budaj made a series of crucial saves to hold off the Blues rally, and the Avs left the ice to celebrate a well-deserved victory.
“I think everyone played great tonight,” said Yip. “Everyone gave a great effort and it was really a team win.”
While all of the Avalanche skaters played with tremendous effort, focus and determination to obtain Monday night’s win, Yip was by far the star of the game due to his intensity on the ice and his two timely goals.
“Yip had a strong game tonight,” said Sacco. “When he plays with that intensity he’s a very effective player.”
Although Budaj surrendered three goals minding the net, he also made 21 good saves and withstood a bombardment of shots at the end of the game to protect the lead and seal the victory.
“Peter did a great job for us,” said Yip about his goalie. “He stepped in there all night and made some great key saves, especially at the end.”
“We made the game more interesting than it had to be,” Sacco added about Budaj’s performance. “But Peter had a strong game tonight and came up with a huge pad-save at the end that preserved the win for us.”
Monday’s win was particularly important because the Avalanche have been struggling lately. Their problems have been a lack of effort, sloppy execution and an inability to score.
But the Avs showed that they can skate hard, score goals and find ways to win, which should help them gain confidence and momentum heading into the all-star break.
“Sometimes when we win we get too high and when we lose we get too low,” said Yip. ”So we’re trying to keep that even-keel, play with a good effort and play the way we were playing a couple months ago. Tonight we got back to our game plan; we’re a skating team, and when we play physical like that it helps everyone’s game, and so we just need to remember what we did tonight as we move forward.”
The Avs have one more game before the All-Star break as the Phoenix Coyotes come to Denver for a Wednesday night contest.