BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 14: Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche takes a break during second period action against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on March 14, 2012 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Avalanche traveled to the Big Apple Saturday for some St. Patrick Day fun. The ghost of Roy was definitely in the building as Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov put on a show for the MSG crowd turning aside 41 shots to propel the Avalanche to their 13th win against the Eastern Conference. More importantly, Colorado took 5-out-6 points on this road trip and solidified 7th place in the West (for now, at least).
The first period featured a fairly subdued start as both clubs seemed to be feeling each other out. Varlamov was called on early and often on some decent scoring chances from the Rangers. The pace began to pick up and the Avs started to level the ice surface with the Paul Stastny line looking as strong as ever during the first 8-10 minutes of the game. About eleven minutes into the period, a harmless looking shot from Daniel Girardi on the low left boards was tipped by Mats Zuccarello as he and Erik Johnson were camped on top of the crease. Not sure if Varlamov was hampered on the shot but it found its way through. 1-0 Rangers. He did respond with a nice glove save on a Marian Gaborik wrist shot on the very next shift, however.
Not long after, Gabriel Landeskog took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone as he tried to break up the Rangers defensive zone exit. The New York power play was fairly uneventful and Landeskog tried to rectify his mistake with a nice rush coming out of the box. At the 15 minute mark of the period, Peter Mueller carried into the zone and made a spectacular pass to a streaking Matt Hunwick who dangled the defenseman and flipped a backhand over goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game 1-1. Matt Duchene had the 2nd assist. Another Avalanche penalty just under four minutes remaining in the period saw more solid work from the Colorado PK unit though this time Varlamov was called on to make a series of in-tight saves on Brian Boyle. The Avs managed to escape the period tied with the Rangers despite some scary decision-making and weak clears toward the end of the period.
The 2nd period started with the closest thing the Avs had to a power play at that point as the Stastny line + the Johnson pairing generated some good chances. Not long after that Cody McLeod and Stu Bickel traded barbs and knuckles. The Rangers continued to push the puck deep and work the cycle while getting plenty of blueshirts right in Varlamov's lap. The cycle game for New York dominated the entire period and continued to pile on the shots, regardless of the line Colorado tried as an answer. The Avalanche were doing great work clearing rebounds and protecting Varlamov (with one exception). The PK gets some more work after a hard-working shift by Jay McClement somehow ended in him taking a goaltender interference call. The penalty started with a virtual shooting gallery before the McClement-less unit got its feet and answered the bell. They killed it off and even got some good pressure the other way.
The Rangers continued to pile on the shots regardless of the situation before a textbook zone entry by Colorado saw Ryan O`Reilly slide a puck across the top of the zone to Ryan Wilson who walked in and hammered a shot on goal. Landeskog got his stick on it to deflect it through Lundqvist to take the lead 2-1 with ten minutes gone in the period. The remainder of the period saw some great individual plays by the boys in Burgundy (good hit by Johnson to snuff out a Ranger cycle, great back-check by Milan Hejduk to stop Brad Richards, and a spectacular save by Varlamov on a laaaaaazer shot by Michael Del Zotto) but the Rangers managed to apply the more consistent pressure. Still, the Avalanche entered the 2nd juice box break still up 2-1 despite being badly out-shot (26-13).
Coming out the the break the first play of memory was Brandon Dubinsky nearly squeaking one through Varlamov, but a little luck goes a long way and no harm done as he falls back on a trickler just under him. The Rangers smelled blood and applied the pressure. The only Avalanche line of note continued to be Stastny's as he, Jamie McGinn, and David Jones continued to generate quality opportunities when they were on the ice. I was especially impressed with McGinn all night. Landeskog drew the first Avalanche power play of the game with a veteran play down low. The ensuing man advantage saw some great possession, passing, and skating by Colorado, but Lundqvist and Co. stood tall. After that the teams traded possession back and forth, but more often than not the New York possession game outmatched Colorado's and Varlamov was called on repeatedly.
Around the 8 minutes left in the period Steve Downie decided that he wanted to clown it up for the remainder of the game. He blatantly hooked Callahan in front of the entire world. The Rangers had a spectacular PP opportunity and maintained possession the entire time while peppering the Avalanche net with shots. The difference-maker was Varlamov time and time again. The penalty was killed and as he forechecked in the Ranger zone, Downie decided to kick a loose helmet at the puck-carrier for ANOTHER penalty, this one with just 5 minutes left in the period. The Rangers' 5th man-advantage of the game would again go for naught due to some MORE SPECTACULAR saves by the Colorado netminder. Once that penalty was killed, Duchene chased a loose puck into the New York zone and was low-bridged as the Ranger defender took a bad angle to the puck in an effort to defend the empty net. The Avs used the ensuing power play to essentially maintain possession and keep the opposition hemmed in the neutral zone before Stastny took a slick pass from Wilson and buried the empty net goal to ice it with 13 seconds left in the game.
MHH Avalanche 3 Heavenly Bodies of the Night
- 1 Varlamov had 41 saves in the game and Just. Did. His. Work.
- 2 McGinn was all over the ice and seemed to have a scoring opportunity ever time he touched the puck.
- 3 Johnson handled his business all night and seemed ready and able to handle the Rangers' big-bodied attack.
- 1 Landeskog-O'Reilly-Downie
- 2 McGinn-Stastny-Jones
- 3 Mueller-Duchene-Hejduk
- 4 McLeod-McClement-Olver
- 1 Johnson-Hunwick
- 2 O'Brien-Wilson
- 3 Hejda-O'Byrne
- 1 I cannot emphasis this enough: NEVER KNOCK AN OPPOSING PLAYER DOWN ON YOUR GOALIE WHILE HE'S DOWN IN THE BUTTERFLY, ESPECIALLY ONE WITH A HISTORY OF INJURIES!! I'm talking to you Ryan O`Byrne.
- 2 Duchene wore his favorite camo hat during the 2nd intermission interview. Realtree or die!!
- 3 2nd night in a row with horrible cameramen missing tons of ice and puck carriers.
NHL.com Recap & Highlights
Colorado returns home for a pivotal one-game homestand against Division Rival and Playoff Hopeful Calgary on Tuesday. Games don't get more important than this one folks. The puck drops at 7 pm MT.