The now Stastny-less Blues came into Denver to face the Stastny-led Avalanche tonight. The story of the night wasn't their legendary heritage, it was the one-man domination of Chris Stewart on the streaking St. Louis Blues, winners of five in a row. Avs fans were also treated to the return of Milan Hejduk to the lineup. Both played great and carried the Avalanche to a dominating victory over the visiting Blues.
The Duke was immediately inserted into the lineup, skating on the right side with Peter Mueller on the left side of Duchene's line. Other line combos out of the gate included Yeller centering ShamWow and Stoa while Radar skates between The Highlander and Hendricks. The top line was SoS with Blue Note Killer Stewie and probably the least-hyped rook (IMO at least), Galiardi. Brett Clark got to watch the game from the pressbox while Cumiskey skated the warm-up but didn't dress for tonight's game. Instead, we were treated to Rusty Salei and Ryan Wilson and Johnny Hot Pocket from the Wheel O' Defensemen. All played well, but Wilson decided to put on a show for the 18,000+ in attendance at the Pepsi Center (more on that later).
As usual, the Avs start a tad sluggish and Andy has to make some saves in the early minutes of the first. Brad Winchester also managed to take a pretty decent run at him from the right side in the early part of the first period. Things settled in a tad until Hendricks and Tucker had a nice forecheck that unfortunately resulted in Hendricks getting a stick up on silver-medalist Eric Johnson. Colorado kill-off the PP, sorta. About three seconds after the penalty ended, the Blues get immediate dividends. Perron tipped a hard shot from the point against the grain behind Craig Anderson for the first goal.
Speaking of immediate dividends, the next shift by Duchene's line ties it up after the Blues' D backs off as Dutchie carries it in and looses/drops it to Mueller who threads it beautifully cross-ice to a streaking Duke who tips it on net and then flips the rebound in for the tying goal. Next up, Sacco decides to roll the top line and again sees a lightning-quick return on his investment. A hard Stewart/Galiardi forecheck on a high-and-soft dump results in Stewie and Gali outnumbering the Blues' defenseman behind the net. SoS sweeps in, picks up the puck, steps out and throws the puck across the crease to Stewie who was in tight on Blues goaltender Chris Mason on the other side of the net. Bang. 2-1 lead.
Cody McLeod and Crombeen have a non-fight earning 2 minutes a piece, followed by Quincey getting called for interference. There are a couple of good chances for St. Louis on the 4-on-3, but Andy responds. Cody Mac and Crombeen decide to finish what they started with The Highlander landing some good shots before getting tripped up under Crombeen.
Not long after, we get to see the Avs PP after a David Backes tripping call and it ain't pretty. Lots of dump-ins that result in immediate clears. This would become the theme for the night concerning the Colorado power play. At least we get to see an occasional shot from Mueller at the right point and we continue to see why Greg Sherman thought he'd be a good fit. Later, good shifts from Yelle's line and a couple of good chances from Mueller and Gali end the first period.
As usual (again), the Avs come out flying in the 2nd. Stewie's season-long pwnership of the Blues continues. Two great feeds from Galiardi results in Chris burying the second with authority. The next shift sees Hejduk skating wide and throwing the puck across to a streaking Foote (it's bizarre, I know) which bounces in off of a back-checking Andy MacDonald's skate. Mason's night is done and my third-string fantasy goalie Ty Conklin comes in. Colorado crank the domination up to 11 and generate a PP that is better, but doesn't generate any really good chances. Later, play starts to level out a little with a short PK for Colorado featuring Andy making some key saves.
About the midpoint of the period, Stastny outworks his man in the corner and throws the puck to the slot to a wide-open Stewart. He mishandles the pass but gets it up to Galiardi who doesn't miss with a nice backhand from a couple of feet out. Not too long after, Steen strikes back for the visitors when Andy misplays a puck as he tries to cover it and it pops out front. Even a diving Hot Pocket can't stop it. We're at 5-2 now. Andy continues to hold the Blues in check with a huge save on a Crombeen wrap-around. Stastny has some great work behind his own net and after a tough shift by all involved, Stewie is put into the wall at the other by Polak (I bet his childhood was a gem) at the other end. Wilson decides the Blues haven't seen enough game tape of him or they'd know better than treating his teammates that way. He drops a bomb of a hit on D'Agostini seconds after a great clear off of an Anderson rebound. His next shift out (which isn't long as the Avs are working with 5 defensemen since Salei didn't come out of the locker room due to a torso injury in the first), he separates MacDonald from the puck. He also has two points on the night at this point. I missed Ryan. Glad he's back and playing like the Wilson we all love.
The story of the end of the 2nd is Stewie though. He gets awarded for his hard work and great skating with a penalty shot after getting taken out on a pseudo breakaway. He takes a leisurely pace to the net, but lasers one top shelf to beat Conklin, who looks like he's actively trying to get out of the way of pucks at this point. Stewart has his first career hat trick and the Pepsi Center crowd loves it. It's 6-2 for the good guys. The period ends with a Yelle takeaway and miss and Backes taking a run at Hejduk at the buzzer. JM Liles doesn't like it and responds, but nobody's feelings are hurt.
The Blues come out jumping in the 3rd and dominate possession early. Steen tips another point shot past Anderson about 5 minutes in. 6-3 Avs. Ruht-wro Shaggy. No fear, though. My third-string fantasy center, TJ Oshie trips Adam Foote behind Anderson to give the Avs a power play. Unfortunately, it appears to be the same PP from the first period. Fortunately, it settles the Avs a little bit. Not long after, Hendricks and Co. manage to generate some shots-on-goal and a partial 2-on-1. One thing the Blues do well is move the puck to their points quickly. They generate tons of shots on net by just making the simple play to their defense and letting some pretty great shots go. New kid Ferris Mueller gets called for a holding penalty on one of those type plays with about nine minutes left in the period. The Blues keep the puck in the zone until about the last 20 seconds of the PK. Still, the Avs escape the short-handed situation. Next shift begins again with the Blues dominating possession in the Avalanche zone, but Jay McClement takes down John-Michael Liles in front of the net to put the Avs on their 4th PP of the game with about seven minutes left. Again, dumps into the offensive zone result in clears for the Blues. Anyway, the ineffective power manages at least to kill two minutes. The last few minutes feature some back-and-forth play and a stoppage sees the Blues opt to pull Conklin with just over two minutes left in the game. The Blues dominate for about 45 seconds when a hard clearing attempt sees Hendricks hustle down and tap in the EN goal to make it 7-3 for Colorado and 12 goals against the Blues in the two games in the Pepsi Center this season.
A great game from the boys in Burgundy in front of a good home crowd. They managed to generate 32 shots on the St. Louis tandem, but at the same time managed to give up 42 against. I figure tired legs from the 5 guys on the blueline featured heavily in that statistic. The win puts them at 80 points and pushes one of the teams under them in the standings farther behind. The Avs move to 3-0 against St. Louis this season. More importantly, the Canucks' game-in-hand is played tomorrow night so the Avs maintain pace for the Northwest lead with a chance to take the lead with a win over those same Canucks on Tuesday night.
#3 Galiardi - Goal, 2 assists
#2 Hejduk - 2 goals
#1 Mr. Hatty Stewart - 3 goals, 1 assist