The Avalanche needed a win tonight to tie up the Vancouver Canucks on top of the Northwest Division and they didn't disappoint. While the Canucks still hold the tiebreaker over the Avs and retain that top spot, the Avalanche aren't giving up.
Tonight's game is kind of an odd one to describe. The Avalanche played well and yet got a little lucky to boot. Blues' starter Chris Mason was awful between the pipes (he's now allowed 9 goals on 37 shots against the Avs this year) and the Avalanche also benefited from some...well, interesting officiating.
Both Mason and Craig Anderson seemed a little off at the start of the game. Anderson gave up a long goal to Eric Brewer less than 4 minutes in; he immediately complained he was interfered with, but none of the replays captured David Backes in the crease. TJ Galiardi - playing center tonight in the absence of Radar O'Reilly - scored less than 30 seconds later on a pretty, but soft, goal. When Erik Johnson made it 2-1 just under the 8-minute mark, both goalies appeared to be on a fast-track to getting pulled. Anderson pulled it together, however, and didn't allow another one the rest of the way. Mason? Not so much.
Some of that questionable officiating helped the Avalanche out towards the end of the first. TJ Oshie was called for interference - the 2nd offensive zone interference call on the Blues in the period. It was a generous call for the Avalanche, especially when Brandon Yip was able to knock in a puck rolling in the crease on the ensuing powerplay. Although that tied the game, I felt that may have been a real momentum swinger. Instead of going into the first intermission down 2-1, the score was evened up setting the stage for a big 2nd period by the Avalanche.
Chris Stewart started the flurry at the 2:25 mark when he deflected Ryan Wilson's point shot past Mason for his 18th goal of the season. Paul Stastny, playing on a number of Oreo lines on the night (as in, the middle was the only good part), snuck a backhand shortside on Mason just 90 seconds later. Stastny had 7 shots despite playing with linemates like Chris Durno, Justin Mercier, Cody McLeod and Marek Svatos for large chunks of the game. Finally, Yip rifled one in off of Mason's arm just 2 and a half minutes after that. That essentially knocked Mason out of the game (Blues coach Davis Payne waited until after Chris Stewart engaged in an ill-advised fight with BJ Crombeen on the next faceoff). Former UNH Wildcat Ty Conklin played terrific in relief, but the damage was done.
The Avalanche caught another big break later in the period when Oshie appeared to cut the lead to 5-3 with still almost half of the game to play. Instead, the goal was waved off and Oshie was sent to the box for a hook as he battled Hannan to the puck. That was, in my opinion, a terrible call. Even worse, TJ Oshie did not gain possession of the puck after his penalty - it was actually Hannan who fired that into the net (inadvertently).
From there, the game was played relatively evenly and neither team was able to change the score, giving the Avalanche a big 5-2 win and sending the Blues to their 3rd straight loss.
The win was nearly a costly one for the Avalanche. Craig Anderson took a shot off his collarbone at one point and dropped immediately to the ice. He was down for a considerable amount of time, but ultimately shook it off and stayed in the game. Meanwhile, Adam Foote missed a large chunk of the 1st period with an unknown issue, but returned in the 2nd. Wojtek Wolski skated off gingerly after taking a puck to the foot and Brett Clark got stung badly by two separate blocks, but both appeared to be okay. David Koci may not have been so fortunate - he hurt his hand in an early fight with DJ King and did not return to the game.
All in all, a great game by the Avalanche. Yes, they caught some luck on this one, but also played solid hockey for the 2nd game in a row. The Avs have 3 games left before the Olympic break, with two of them against two teams just above them in the standings. Winnable games? If they can keep playing like this...absolutely.