How about this for a Craigslist entry: "Uh, guys, a little help?"
Craig Anderson very nearly stole the game tonight. But, in the end, he couldn't overcome the defensive miscues. The strong defensive effort exhibited in game one took a breather tonight. The good news was that the Avalanche blueliners did an excellent job blocking shots tonight. The bad news was that they had a LOT of opportunities to block shots as none of the 6 had a very strong game (and Scott Hannan and Kyle Quincey were particularly poor tonight). You could put together a hefty video file on How Not To Clear The Puck based on tonight's game.
Setting aside the outcome, this was an entertaining game from start to finish. While the ice was certainly tilted San Jose's way, the Avalanche took advantage of just about every opportunity given to them. The entire game was a repeating cycle - quick goal by the Avs, followed by a long period of work by the Sharks to tie it up. Then a quick goal by the Avs, and on and on. The Avalanche led 5 times and 5 times the Sharks tied it up. San Jose's first lead of the game came on Devon Seteguchi's overtime goal.
The Avs started the scoring with a fluky goal just 70 seconds in, when Rob Blake's clearing attempt hit Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the collarbone and dropped right into the goal. Milan Hejduk was originally credited with the goal, but it was later changed to Kyle Cumiskey. The Avalanche did everything they could to atone for that cheap goal by taking some stupid penalties in the first period - Cumiskey's eggheaded offensive zone holding penalty (on a power play, no less) and Adam Foote's ill-advised interference call a little later on. Ironically, it was the 3rd penalty that was more of a bad break, with the puck taking an unexpected bounce to the Avalanche bench to lead to a Too Many Men penalty that finally resulted in the PP goal - Manny Malhotra scored with just 42 seconds to go in the 1st to tie the game.
The 2nd period was a barn burner, with 6 goals scored. Evgeni Nabokov made a whopping one save in the first (and the Avs punched home the rebound on that one). Chris Stewart started things off by doing what we said he would in our preview last week - he took a headman pass from Craig Anderson and outraced an out-of-position Doug Murray to go in all alone on Nabby. Just 24 seconds in, the Avs were back in the lead. Blake tied it 3 minutes later with a blistering shot that beat Andy cleanly to the glove side. The Avalanche needed just 35 seconds to take the lead again when Matt Duchene out-hustled a couple of Sharks to the puck inside the zone and Doug Murray again made a brutal error, leaving Milan Hejduk all alone in the center of the ice. Just over 4 minutes in, Avalanche 3, San Jose 2.
Setoguchi tied it a few minutes later when he beat Anderson to a rebound in the slot. This time, it took 10 minutes for the Avs to go back on top, with Brandon Yip scoring at the 17:10 mark to make it 4-3 - a very soft goal on the part of Nabokov. And, as they had in the first period, the Sharks played right up to the end of the period and scored their 2nd goal of the night in the final minute of the period. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be their last.
Just over 5 minutes into the 3rd, Chris Stewart scored his 2nd of the night (and 30th in 79 games played this year) - another dud by Nabokov. As bad as Nabby was playing here, I would have loved to see the Avs ramp up the pressure here to try to get a 2-goal lead. They had a perfect opportunity to do so. At the 8:58 mark, Setoguchi appeared to score the tying goal, but it was waved off for goaltender interference. Setoguchi got two minutes as well and Rob Blake handed the Avalanche a 5-on-3 a short time later with his gentlemanly kneeing penalty on Matt Duchene. The Avs failed to get a shot with the 2-man advantage, and it cost them. Although the Avalanche were able to kill a completely boneheaded slashing penalty on Brandon Yip with 5 to go, the Sharks ultimately came back. With Nabby pulled and just over 30 seconds left, Paul Stastny and Stephane Yelle got slowed up in the neutral zone when they crossed paths. This gave the Sharks way too much room to operate. Joe Thornton found Dany Heatly in the slot. Adam Foote had 6 blocks in the game, but this one got past him. Anderson made the save, but there was no man available to pick up Joe Pavelski or the puck, and he banged it home for the dramatic tying goal.
Both teams came out firing in OT, but the Avs' discipline issues finally did them in. The Avalanche took some bad penalties all night - from the Foote and Cumiskey penalties in the first to a head-scratching cross-check by Stastny in the 2nd to Yip's brain fart in the 3rd. To that, you could add Foote's interference play, when he drove Jed Ortmeyer into the net away from the play, knocking it off the moorings. I quickly read through some of the comments in the monstrous live thread, and see that there are a lot of people unhappy with that call. To me, that was a clear penalty - not only did he run into him away from the puck, but he conspicuously pushed Ortmeyer into the net...and he did this 10 feet away from the referee. That was no incidental contact. Worse, it was unnecessary. There's no way that's not going to get called, overtime, playoffs or otherwise. I again thought the officiating was uneven - lots of interference on both teams that wasn't called - but I don't see how you can blame the refs for this one. If you've gotten this far, you know Setoguchi tipped the puck past Anderson on the ensuing power play to send the Avalanche home with a still acceptable 1-1 series split.
But the Avalanche gave a potent Sharks team way too many chances tonight, whether it was with dumb penalties or terrible clearing attempts. If that's a sign of things to come, this series is going to be over quickly. And it won't be the fault of the refs.
Mike's Thoughts: Wow. This game was not what I expected after Game 1. I though we'd see a much more controlled Sharks team who really utilized their size and an Avalanche team with the foot firmly planted on the gas pedal. Instead, there was lots of scoring chances off the rush at both ends, the Avs were tied or in the lead for the vast majority of the game, we saw another dirty play by Gentleman Blake, more horrible officiating, and more late game heroics. I don't think we saw quite a 60 minute effort, but it was pretty close. The long and short of this game, and the loss, is the power-play opportunities. San Jose had something like 27 shots generated from the multiple man advantages. And of course they scored on two of those. On the other end, the lack of anything cohesive, especially on the 2-man advantage for the Avalanche, wasn't great to see. I thought we had some great individual games, especially Stewert, Duchene and Hejduk. I thought Andy had some great stops, but the Nichol goal will stick in my craw for a tad. Also, the first Shark fan that tries to tell me that the crowd wasn't hostile for the home team is delusional. At one point they were "cheering" Nabokov for making a routine save. The chorus of "Avalanche boos" in the first was also laughable. Still, the Avs managed a road split on two close games. Hopefully some home cooking will allow the Avs to play more "on their toes", something they got away from for stretches of this game.
Paul's misgivings: That was an entertaining bout that the Avs were lucky to be ahead, or tied, in for entire game (until the bitter end). We discussed in our preview the need to limit the Sharks PP chances - 8 penalties is not exactly limiting anything accept the chances the Avs have to win the game. Yes the officiating has been lopsided and inconsistent, but that really doesn't matter in the fact that the Avs have to stop taking so many penalties. And they can't get outshot by 30 ever again if they want to keep on top of this series. The GREAT news is that the Avs capitalized on the majority of their chances and that was glorious to see. They responded quickly after goals and bounced right back to take the lead. This is an opportunistic bunch of kids to be sure. Another positive is that the Avs stole home ice in the series by taking that split in SJ. My favorite thing to see though is Galiardi and his playoff beard of blood as he just becomes more badass by the shift. He is legend. Stewie too. I just want CS to use that massive frame to hit more fools. If the Sharks play that physical, and the Avs don't out run the brutes in teal, then the Avs can't win the 7 game series. But our boys will bounce back, just like they have all season. Last note: somebody please punch Rob Blake in the throat - or at least a gentlemanly slap across his doughy face.
See you for Sunday's game 3 preview and recap. GO AVS!