The Colorado Avalanche played nearly 2 1/2 periods of good hockey last night, while he Columbus Blue Jackets played a half period of great hockey. The half period of great hockey won, as Columbus came back from a 3-1 deficit to start the third to win 5-4. It's the first time this year the Avalanche have blown a third period lead. It was a deflating loss - the type of loss that cause head coaches to lose their jobs.
The Blue Jackets got on the board first (how many times has that happened in the last month or so? Too many) when Rick Nash's dazzling spin-o-rama fooled Scott Hannan and Peter Budaj right out of their skates. Despite falling down a goal, the Avs actually were the better team in the first two periods (25-14 shot advantage) and worked hard to get on the board.
They finally broke through early in the 2nd, when Wojtek Wolski put home a rebound past Columbus' Pascal Leclaire. Then, late in the 2nd, Paul Stastny scored after a wild battle in front of the net. Leclaire had stopped the puck and flopped on it, but the play continued and the puck squirted out from underneath the goalie and trickled towards the net. Adam Foote was able to clear it out, but when they went upstairs to review, it was evident that the puck had crossed over the line first. The Avs made it 3-1 less than a minute later when Jeff Finger innocently fired the puck to the net. Leclaire was more concerned with having Ryan Smyth draped in front of him than he was with stopping the puck, and the puck went in. The Blue Jackets (and their announcers) were livid that Smyth wasn't called for interference on the play. It didn't change the goal, but it sure seemed to fire them up in the 3rd.
Ken Hitchcock replaced Leclaire with Fredrik Norrena in the 3rd, and, for a few minutes, it looked like the Avs were going to be able to coast the rest of the way. All of a sudden, though, Nash scored a dandy wraparound goal, and the entire game changed. The crowd woke up from their game-long slumber and went absolutely berzerk. The players went from going through the motions to playing with emotion. From there, you knew the Avs were in trouble. Joakim Lindstrom scored on the PP to make it 3-3. Nikolai Zherdev scored with a bit over 5 minutes left to make it 4-3. Scott Hannan tied it again to make it 4-4, but the relief was short-lived, as Dan Fritsche scored the game-winner just 30 seconds after that. The Avalanche just had no answer for the steam-rolling effort the Jackets exhibited in the final 10-15 minutes.
Obviously, this was a bummer of a game to watch. I'm still a bit cranky this morning. Peter Budaj didn't look very good. Was it the mechanics of his game? Nope, he just didn't look confident out there. I have no idea why that would be, unless it's the fact that almost every time an Avalanche goalie loses, they sit (Quenneville has started a goalie 3 games in a row just once this year - the first 3 games of the year when Theodore was hurt).
Meanwhile, the Avs are looking remarkably thin up front. The Stastny line accounted for 15 of the teams 36 shots and was on the ice for 18:27 of the game at even strength. That's tops for any Colorado line this year, just edging out...the 17:50 they had in Monday's game against San Jose. 18:27! That means the line was out there almost 38% of the time the team was at even strength. I know Sakic is out and Brunette is not himself because of the flu (just 10:52), but it also goes to show that while we have a ton of depth, when the game is on the line we're relying on a few key people. We seem to have a huge abundance of skilled 5-10, 185 pound 3rd line wingers. Wouldn't it make sense to package a couple of those guys for a top 6 forward?
I have a lot of emotions going through my head today. You know what the biggest one is? Jealousy. The way the Jackets rallied in the 3rd and started playing with emotion in front of a roaring crowd...I miss that. As lousy as it was to witness on my end (oh, that annoying cannon), what a blast it had to be for Columbus fans. The Avalanche have some solid character guys, and I love that...but for the love of Tyler Arnason wouldn't it be great to have a Colorado team that gets fired up like that. And no, Thomas, I'm not saying what you think I'm saying.
Game notes are here
I haven't been doing a job of getting the line reports done in a timely matter. Maybe I'll make that a New Year's Resolution. The rumored line of Richardson, Hensick and Svatos did not materialize.
- Stastny, Smyth, Hejduk
- Arnason, Wolski, Laperriere
- Hensick, Brunette, Svatos
- Hlinka, Richardson, McCormick
- In another example of bias in the secondary stats, the Avs were credited with 5 hits to Columbus' 19. John-Michael Liles, who had at least 3 notable hits, was credited with 1.
- Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore now have almost identical stats. Both have a 2.95 GAA. Budaj's .887 save percentage is just a fraction better than Theo's .888
- Hannan has 6 points (1g, 5a) in his last 6 games.
The Avs host the slimy Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.