DENVER, CO - MARCH 22: Ryan O'Reilly #37 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates his first period goal with Jonas Halos #36 and Ryan Stoa #29 against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Pepsi Center on March 22, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Maybe the Avs just needed to be eliminated from playoff contention sooner. The Avalanche came from behind tonight to beat the Blue Jackets in the shootout, making the Avs 2-0 since the door was officially closed on the playoffs this year.
This game had about as much passion as a Steven Wright routine. In other words: there wasn't anyway. Well, for the first 45 minutes or so.
Columbus started the scoring just a couple of minutes in. Rick Nash and Derek Brassard started a breakout from the neutral zone. Brassard carried the puck up the middle and Nash broke in on the left wing. Erik Johnson took on Brassard in the center, and motioned for Ryan Stoa to cover Nash. Unfortunately, Nash was already well ahead of Stoa, as Stoa got off to a very slow start in the neutral zone. Brassard flicked it to Nash who had a clear path to the net and he had scored on an easy backhander. The "best" part of the play was that Brassard could have just as easily dished to a wide open Jacob Voracek, as Ryan Wilson had inexplicably left him alone to sort of half-assedly double up Brassard.
The Avs tied it up just a few minutes later when Matt Hunwick made a great play pinching inside the blueline to intercept the puck and drop it back to Kevin Porter. Porter fired it on net and Ryan O'Reilly was there to collect the rebound and deposit it behind Steve Mason.
In the second, another defensive WTF led to another Columbus goal. The Avalanche were on the power play and Erik Johnson - the lone Avalanche defender on the ice - went back to collect a puck. Facing pressure from Derek MacKenzie, Johnson dished up to his blueline...where a total of zero Avalanche forwards had gone back to help out. David Jones was busy coasting in the middle of the ice and Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly and Kevin Porter were...uh, otherwise occupied? So, Johnson's outlet attempt (really, he probably should have just retreated behind the net) went right to Derek Dorsett, who got it back up to MacKenzie for a shorthanded goal. That would be the 10th shortie the Avs have given up this year (really 11, if you count the Philadelphia game).
Amazingly, the Avalanche PP failed again in the 3rd when RJ Umberger scored the second shorthander of the night. A blocked shot led to a 2 on 1 breakout led by Umberger.
Liles Johnson went down on the ice to cut off the pass, so Umberger just fired it on net were he beat Brian Elliott cleanly. Oh, those poor powerplay kittens.
The Avalanche closed the gap to 3-2 just 45 seconds later. Matt Duchene had a chance blocked at the side of the net, but he stuck with it and fought off two sticks in the vicinity to bang home the rebound.
The Duchene line came through again with about 5 minutes to go. Matt Hunwick carried the puck in and dished it to Mark Olver. Olver almost lost the puck, but made a great play to regain control without breaking stride. He fired the puck on net and kept charging, putting him in perfect position to grab the puck as he raced past the net and dished it back to Duchene who tipped it home from almost the exact same spot as his earlier goal.
The Avalanche had all the momentum at this point, but before you could even say "two in a row", the Avs blew it again. RJ Umberger had the puck on the sideboards deep in the Colorado zone. Around him were 3 Avalanche players - Liles, Stastny and Hunwick - and zero Columbus players. That was no problem for Umberger, who spun around, shook off Liles and charged to the net where he slid the puck harmlessly under Elliott before bowling him over. It was a rather dubious night for the Avalanche defensively. They started off with an ugly goal, and somehow managed to look worse on each subsequent goal given up on the night. At this point, I wanted to see the Avs go to overtime, just to see what sort of monstrosity they could give up next.
I got my wish. With just 7 seconds left, the Avalanche had a final chance to tie things up. The draw was in the Columbus zone. Elliott had been pulled for an extra attacker and Jan Hejda was in the box for delay of game. Duchene took the draw, won it over to Stastny, Stastny drops back to Johnson and Johnson fired a bullet on net. Mason made the save, but Dan Winnik was there to bang home the rebound with just 4 seconds left. For a game that was so flat for so long, this one had sure turned into a barn-burner.
The Avalanche indeed looked shaky defensively (with a stick tap to Milan Hejduk for a brutal "drop pass" to the Blue Jackets to start one of the rushes). But, Brian Elliott was a freaking rock in overtime with 6 saves, and 4 of them were absolutely huge. He looked shaky at times tonight, but he was enormous in OT.
In the shootout, Milan Hejduk started things off with a beauty of a wrister over Mason's glove (happy 900th game, Milan). Elliott then stopped Umberger, Duchene missed, and then Elliott stoned Nash. Saturday's hero, Ryan Stoa missed on his attempt but Derick Brassard's chance rang off the post to seal the victory for the Avalanche.
It wasn't super pretty (and, until midway through the 3rd it was super dull). But the Avalanche got the win. It did screw up the tank race, as they moved past Ottawa in the standings tonight (Ottawa lost to Carolina). Screw the tank; I'm much happier to see that W flag again. I wouldn't mind seeing a little D as well.