As the game began to get underway, the fans were treated to a raft of interesting news from the Avs. Ryan Wilson's 'conditioning stint' in Lake Erie was over seemingly moments after he had been sent there, and would be playing in tonight's game in place of an injured Tyson Barrie. Turns out, manly Tyson finished last game against the Islanders with an injured shoulder after being crushed against the glass by Mr. Nice Guy Clutterbuck. Thanks, Cal! Furthermore, Nick Holden had been left behind in Denver (???), as his wife is expecting, and is due any moment (!!!). Happy premature congratulations, Nick! In his place the Avs would start newly called up LEM beast Karl Stollery (5g, 6a,11p, +5 in 29 games). Welcome, Karl!
An added bonus returned in the form of uber-hugger Ryan O'Reilly, who had recovered enough from his shoulder injury to shave off his Samurai top knot and opt for a seemingly ubiquitous pompadour. There was much rejoicing. Mostly by me. For I knew that we would need his help to defeat the evil trap team and their boring hockey play! Forth, Radar, and do battle!
Period the First!
This was a period that could only be properly described as a possession game. Each team had a chance early on, but neither chance came to much. The Avs solidly killed off a Power Play that stemmed from a Erik Johnson roughing call. Some people tried to shoot the puck at either end and it ended up in the netting above. Other guys skated, but not always very fast. With 4 minutes remaining in the period the shots were 3-2 Avs. The entire first period was like the two teams were feeling each other out, but no one wanted to do anything overly bold. Funny thing, I think these guys might have seen each other before. Possibly even played one another. Weird. It was a very odd period for me to watch. I might have even yawned a time or two.
I was starting to write my notes about the period with two minutes left when I was shocked to see something happen! Those crafty Wild-ians had been playing possum, and really were capable of offense after all! A rush down to the Avs' end resulted in Semyon Varlamov having to make back to back saves on pretty darn good shots from Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. It was like someone had woken everyone up, and they remembered they were supposed to be playing! However, the intermission got in the way, so we would have to wait to see who was going to make things happen in the Second.
Its not like the team played badly in the first. It was just... Wild Hockey. Lots of forechecking, lots of passing, lots of clogging the neutral zone and taking away passing lanes. The Avs won the hit battle (9-5), the faceoff battle (8-6), and the awesomeness battle (altho that one is a little subjective, and open to interpretation). But the next period was approaching, and things were going to get nuts.
Unfortunately, the Second set started out similarly to the first, altho both teams did seem to be playing with more jump. Half a dozen shots at either end were blocked, or tipped, or wide. Just as it was settling down into the same old grind, Dany Heatley welcomed 'youngster' Karl Stollery to the NHL. It wasn't through some gigantic hit, or an initiation fight, but thru the cunning use of trickery! Heatley was able to grab Stollery's stick when it was shielded from the official's view and make it look like Karl had hooked him. The look on Stollery's face was priceless. Welcome to the NHL, buddy! Careful of that in the future! I would probably be more upset if the Avs hadn't killed the penalty off handily, but... Whatevs.
It was like that penalty got the ball rolling. The Avs woke up, and a couple minutes later, Paul Stastny poke checked the puck in our own end, which loosened everyone and led to a three-on-two odd man rush. Landeskog, Max Talbot, and Stastny rolled down the ice together, calmly and coolly passing the puck back and forth, making it all look too easy. Landy deeked Backstrom a bit and put the puck in the back of the net. Beautiful move, beautiful play.
Next up, some fancy skating by Duchene behind the Wild's net drew a holding penalty from Stephane Veilleux, and put the Avs on a PP. The Wild were quite good in stopping us from setting up, but they didn't seem bothered when Duchene skated the puck into their zone without a care in the world. They stopped us easily, but that's probably why they didn't mind when Johnson tried to do the same thing moments later. Don't worry, tho, he can't skate nicely or anything. His effort to get the puck into the zone drew a hooking call on Matt Cooke, resulting in 48 seconds of 5 on 3. Tee hee fun! Except it wasn't as fun as it should have been. Minnesota fought hard on that two man advantage, and altho the Avs had good puck movement, we couldn't capitalize. Neither could we convert on the rest of the second PP, resulting in high-volume swearing at the TV. My neighbors love me.
However, Gloriousness! The Factor strikes on a good feed from John Mitchell right after the PP time expired! Minnesota had gotten themselves all perky at the idea of stopping our snipers, only to get caught out moments later! Huzzah! Andre Benoit receives credit for the secondary assist! Feeling pretty good, the Avs set about putting the Minnesotas in their place! Only to see it all fall apart! YAY! uh, hang on...
So, in an attempt to remind us that they are, in fact, just behind us in the standings and one of our biggest roadblocks to making the playoffs, Minnesota scored two goals to tie it up in 40 seconds. Both were scored by Charlie Coyle, and both came on primary feeds from Dany Heatley. And, honestly, both were excellent plays by The Wild. On the first, Coyle used a good stride to slip around a backchecking Cody McLeod and be in just the right spot for a great pass from Heatley. 15 seconds later, Varly had to be sharp to stop a point blank shot from Coyle right on his doorstep. You could feel the tide turning, this awfulness in the pit of your stomach, and... yup. There it is. A great pass from Heatley behind the net to Coyle sliding in from the near circle. And, just like that, the tie comes in, and the Avs need to re-gather themselves.
End of the period madness. In the final two minutes, the Avalanche crashed against the Wild net (see what I did there?!) and a flurry of rubber ensues. I got all excited because its what I had been hoping for all game long. And then, in a moment of madness, the one time the puck was in our end for that whole two minutes, Cory Sarich gave the puck up about 6 feet in front of our own net. Heart attack is imminent. Varly stands tall. Help arrives. CPR performed on self. And the Avs finish with a couple more shots on goal. Whew.
Third Period of DOOOOOM
Oh man, I have got to shorten this up. So, in the third, we find that Paulie Walnuts is injured and won't be back in the game. Quoi? Well, ok. I guess. Coach Roy tries to fix this problem by substituting some of the kids with remaining strength in their legs in a rotation on the fourth line. Everyone is tired, tho, and it shows. Skates are dragging a bit. No one is overly explosive like we are used to seeing. But they kept battling on, in a 2-2 tie game, and held their own.
The Avs almost take the lead with 10 minutes remaining when a Duchene feed to McGinn from behind the net catches Backstrom by surprise. He got a piece of it (but-he-didn't-get-all-of-it-baby-et-cetera), and it ended up fluttering behind him in the paint for one breathless moment, sticks flashing in and out of the overhead shot, no way of telling whose is whose, before he clunked back onto it. Damn. It soon became clear that the game was opening up, tho, because a few seconds later a not-busy Varlamov had to defend back to back wrap around attempts at either side of his net. He was really solid on that one.
And then... O'Reilly. Again. As one of three Avs players with fresh-ish legs, his fantastic forechecking skills become apparent when he strips Ryan Suter of the puck at the Avs blue line and rushes toward the Wild end. With a bit of a give-and-go with Duchene, Radar manages a sharp-angled backhander that lifts over Backstrom's glove side shoulder. Amazing shot. His tenacity continues to impress. 3-2 good guys.
As the Wild try to tie things up, Matt Cooke manages to take an ill advised penalty when he hooked Nathan MacKinnon as the rookie was skating out from behind his own net. Legit call. The resulting PP by us was actually ok, despite the fact that we didn't score. The Wild defended well (Are they really 24th in the league? The struck me as being better than that), but the rapport between O'Reilly and Duchene was apparent. They gave up a short handed chance, tho, on a funny bounce off the end boards, but Eric Johnson blocked the shot so it didn't get off cleanly.
Then, the Wild really tried to open it up. Silly plan. The speed game is what we do best. And we did play better after that. They never really felt dangerous after they started "trying". We are just better than they are at that style of play. Backstrom headed off toward the bench with a minute left in play, but we had already stripped the Wild of the puck, and before Niklas could even sit, Talbot had swatted one in from mid ice. EN goal for the win.
MHH 3 Stars
1) Ryan O'Reilly, with a wonderful return, had 2 points and the game winning goal.
2) Gabe Landeskog, with a beauty of a goal and a thorn for the Wild's sides.
3) Semyon Varlamov, altho he wasn't tested much, he came up big when they needed him to.
Honorable Mention: I couldn't bring myself to give an opposing player a star, but Charlie Coyle had a great game tonight. Heatley did too, but Coyle was money. I hope he doesn't play like this against us again.
The Avs have a couple days to rest up before their next game in Chicago on Tuesday the 14th. Time to get even, boys and girls. Their blog > Second City Hockey