Of all the games that have been deemed "must win" this season, I believe this was the first legitimate one. The loss to Nashville did not do the Avs any favors as far as their chase to make the playoffs and avoid missing them for the third time in four years.
As the game was got underway there was very little flow. There were multiple icing calls and both teams looked sluggish. The Avs were fortunate to get the first lucky break of the afternoon as Shawn Horcoff was able to pull the puck out of a scrum and fired a shot off the near post.
Not surprising to most Avs fans, the Oilers received the first power play of the game when Kevin Porter took one of those "good penalties". Porter hooked Eric Belanger as he was cutting across the top of the crease with Varlamov down and out, easily saved an early goal against.
WIth the first period winding down the Oilers were able to finally break through and get on the scoreboard. As is the norm with ex-Avalanche players, Ryan Smyth scored his 19th goal of the season from right at the top of the crease with just over 30 seconds to play in the first period.
Heading into the second period, the Avs needed to show up with a better effort. As Joe Sacco likes to say, "We didn't start the game on time."
Unfortunately it didn't appear they were going to show up for the second period either. Jamie McGinn was called for high sticking just a minute into the second period. Thankfully the Avs penalty killers did show up today and were able to kill of Edmonton's second power play of the game.
Then it happened. With none of the top players showing up the first half of the game, the Avs fourth line stepped up and scored. Cody McLeod took a great pass from Ryan Wilson below the goal line and buried between Khabibulin's legs to tie the game at 1 at the 4:44 mark of the second period. It was McLeod's 6th goal of the season. It continues to amaze me the absolutely vital role that The Highlander plays on this team. He is a UFA after this season and if he is not re-signed...it will be an absolute tragedy.
The goal by McLeod seemed to give the Avs the energy they seemed to be missing. The Avs now seemed to be skating with a purpose. They started to finish all of their checks, take away the Oilers time and space and this forced the Oilers to start turning the puck over and make more mistakes. As a hockey team, if you continue to do these things, good things will happen.
WIth Jordan Eberle stumbling just in front of the Avs bench, Milan Hejduk found a burst of speed and blew past his man with a very nifty move. Unfortunately Khabibulin was there to make the save on Hejduk, but Mueller was able to beat Ladislav Smid to the net and slammed the puck into the net for his 6th goal of the season just over halfway through the second period.
The Avs closed out a much better period than the first. They would need to keep that effort going into the third if the Avs wanted any chance of coming away with the full two points in this game.
The first couple of minutes of the third, the Avs seemed to slink back into their non-energy style game that cost them in the first period. Then Jamie McGinn made a great pass to send in David Jones in on a mini-breakaway, Khabibulin was there to make a great save.
The Avs just about had another mini-breakway as Steve Downie pulled away from Andy Sutton when the puck hopped off his stick, he was forced to haul down Downie. The Avs would go on their second power play of the game, but would only manage one shot on net as the Oilers killed off the penalty.
The Avs definitely dodged a bullet with just about 9 minutes left in the third period. The Oilers appeared to have tied the game on a goal by Ales Hemsky but referee Paul Devorsky ruled that Sam Gagner did not allow Semyon Varlamov to make an attempt to make a save on the shot. Now I'm as big of an Avs fan as you could ever meet, but that was a bad call. Varly simply overcommitted on the play and was beaten. As the old saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
I've never understood why teams continue to try and play a game like they're trying not to lose. Every time a team tries to do this, they end up letting the opposing team back into the game. And wouldn't you know that's exactly what happened. With Taylor Hall falling down, and almost behind the goal line he somehow managed to fire a shot between Varly and the goal post after he made the save on the initial shot by Jordan Eberle. It was Hall's 25th goal of the season.
WIth the game heading to overtime, both teams absolutely were going for the win. The Avs absolutely needed the two points to move closer to making the playoffs and the Oilers were playing for pride and the role of spoiler for their Northwest Division rival. As Mike Haynes stated on Altitude, this was probably the best overtime period I've seen in awhile.
With the game going to the shootout, the Avs definitely had the upper hand as they have been absolutely lights out in the shootout this season. Today was absolutely no different as both Milan Hejduk and Peter Mueller scored and Varly stopped both Oilers shooters to improve to an incredible 8-1 in the shootout this season.
MHH Avalanche 3 Stars of the Night
- 1 Semyon Varlamov, 28 saves on 30 shots and 2 for 2 in the shootout.
- 2 Milan Hejduk, Shootout GW and 1A
- 3 Cody McLeod, 1G, Huge goal to give the Avs life in the second period
- 1 Landeskog-O'Reilly-Downie
- 2 McGinn-Stastny-Jones
- 3 Mueller-Olver-Hejduk
- 4 McLeod-McClement-Porter
- 1 Johnson-O'Brien
- 2 Hejda-O'Byrne
- 3 Hunwick-Wilson
- 1 The Avs improved to an incredible 8-1 in the shootouts this season.
- 2 Gabriel Landeskog tied Paul Stastny's franchise record for shots by a rookie with 232
- 3 It cannot be overstated how well Semyon Varlamov is playing for this team right now.
NHL.com Recap & Highlights
The Anahiem Ducks fly into town Monday night for another big game. The NBC Sports Network crew will be in town again, remember what happened the last time the Avs were on National TV?