The Avalanche are back in first in the NW division after knocking off the Calgary Flames 3-2 tonight. I wanted to see if the Avs would show up, and they did. In spades.
Right out of the gate, the Avalanche were ready to play. If I had to use one word to describe them tonight, it would be "relentless". Thanks in part to 5 PPs given up by a reckless, headhunting Calgary club, the Avalanche launched 20 shots on Mikka Kiprusoff in the 1st. Kipper had an extraordinary game and kept his club in it, and the Avs only managed to get one goal in the first, a Wojtek Wolski one-timer on a 5-on-3 for his first PP goal of the year.
Colorado kept it up in the 2nd, and a great play by Wolski to regain the puck after his breakaway attempt was stopped so that he could dish it to Chris Stewart and Paul Stastny led to a Stewart goal and a 2-0 lead. Rene Bourque cut the lead to 2-1 just a minute or so later, but then Darcy Tucker scored the eventual game winner with a tip-in that knuckled over Kipper late in the 2nd. The Avalanche have been absolutely incredible at keeping the puck inside the blueline the last couple of games, and it's really paying dividends on both shots for and shots against.
After two periods, the Avs had a decided 33-14 shot advantage and I was already thinking of ways to work in metaphors about 60 minutes of effort in this very recap. But, once again, they petered off a bit in the 3rd. The Avalanche were better in the 3rd period than they've been in previous games with a lead, but they still need to find a way to generate more pressure than 2 shots. Colorado had a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd and started off playing pretty well, but then gave up 3 PPs to the Flames. Even though Avs PK hadn't allowed a goal to Calgary all year, you can't keep giving them chances like that. Sure enough, Mark Giordano scored a PP goal with just under 7 minutes left. And the nail biting could officially commence.
Craig Anderson was nowhere near as busy as his counterpart was tonight (just 21 shots, the 3rd straight game the Avs had given up 22 shots or less), but he came up with a couple of big saves in the 3rd to preserve the lead. T.J. Galiardi and Ryan O'Reilly had a couple of great late-game shifts as well. Still, enough with the hang-on-for-dear-life endings, okay?
This was a big, big victory for the Avalanche. The team had 7 rookies in the lineup and it wasn't a detriment at all. In fact, the rookies were the difference. Galiardi had one of his better games as a pro. O'Reilly had a great game defensively. Duchene overcame getting mugged 3 times in the first period to have a solid game. Ryan Wilson's thunderous hit on David Moss was highlight reel material (and he assisted on Tucker's game-winning goal). Seven different Avs had a point tonight. Six of those scorers are under 25. These kids aren't riding the bus, they are driving it. And they are doing a hell of a job.