Frustrating. Colorado needed to win. Colorado played well enough to win - or at least get a point. But they lost. Vancouver won and (obviously) Minnesota won, meaning the Avs are now 8 points out of 1st in the NW and 6 points out of the final playoff spot in the West, with time running out. I'm a glass half-full kind of guy, so I'm overall happy that the Avalanche have been playing well as of late, but without a significant winning streak this season is perilously close to being over.
Colorado never led in the game, but they were in it right until the very end. Mikko Koivu started things off for the Wild with a PP goal at 6:19 of the first, but former wild Andrew Brunette answered late in the period when Wojtek Wolski grabbed a weak clearing attempt and fed his linemate in front of the net. Early in the 2nd, Pierre-Marc Bouchard took advantage of Peter Budaj's giveaway behind the net, passed to Brian Rolston at the point, and banged the rebound out of the air and into the net. Brett Clark tied it again 6 minutes later by rushing up ice, passing to Milan Hejduk just inside the zone, and breaking to the net to be ready to receive back the pass (more on that move below). Marion Gaborik made it 3-2 at the 14:28 mark, when Karlis Skrastins couldn't handle a bouncing puck at the blueline, leaving the speedy winger all alone inside the Colorado zone. Marek Svatos closed out the 2nd period scoring, taking advantage of some space created by Milan Hejduk's stickhandling; Svatos simply buried Hejduk's pass - seemingly channelling every ounce of frustration from the last two months into the blistering shot.
The 3rd period is where things became painful for my TV remote. With the Wild playing for OT and the Avs playing to win, Colorado spent much of first half of the period on the attack. They couldn't get anything past G Niklas Backstrom, but they had numerous chances. Then, at 13:23, the wheels came off the bus. Ian Laperriere took a needless elbowing penalty, giving the Wild a PP chance that they wouldn't squander - Gaborik scored just as Laperriere was coming out of the box. Inexplicably, just 30 seconds later, Andrew Brunette grabbed an elbowing penalty of his own, effectively taking 2 much-needed minutes off the Avs comeback clock. Both penalties were completely unnecessary (especially since they were both taken behind the Minnesota goal line), and killed the Avs chances to grab a point in the game.
Despite a team-worst -8 so far in the 2nd half of the season, Brett Clark has been playing pretty good hockey of late. He has points in 6 of the 10 games John-Michael Liles has missed and now has just 1 less point than Liles on the season. Last night, he seemed to suddenly remember that he's better than most at moving the puck up the ice. At least 3 times, he moved the puck up to the blueline, passed it off, and then headed straight to the net. He scored once, and had great chances on the other two plays. I hope that's just a taste of things to come - pressure from guys like Clark (and Liles and Leopold) will be a big help to the Avs playoff push.
Peter Budaj is still playing pretty well, but hasn't been quite as sharp as he was during his breakout stretch in January. With some softer goals starting to creep into his game, I wonder if we will start to see more of Jose Theodore in the next few weeks.
No changes tonight. Marek Svatos is looking really good playing LW with Stastny and Hejduk.
C Sakic, LW Wolski, RW Brunette: 15:14 ATOI (EV), 2 pts (EV), 5 shots, -3
C Stastny, LW Svatos, RW Hejduk: 11:42 ATOI (EV), 2 pts (EV), 8 shots, -1
C Arnason, LW McLean, RW Laperriere: 12:43 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 5 shots, -4
C Guite, LW Richardson, RW Rycroft: 6:57 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 1 shot, E
D Clark & D Skrastins: 14:08 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 5 shots, -3
D Klee & D Vaananen: 14:21 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 4 shots, -2
D Leopold & D Sauer: 17:55 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 2 shots, +2
- With Liles returning soon, it's interesting to note that Kurt Sauer has had significantly more ice time than Ossi Vaananen in the last 4 games. Sauer has 77:15 TOI to Vaananen's 57:10. I don't know if that's more a function of being paired with Jordan Leopold, or an indication of a change in pecking order on the blueline.
- Speaking of Leopold: he has 3 points in the 4 games since returning from the groin injury.
- Thanks in no small part to Mark Rycroft, Colorado outhit the Wild (at least according to the official scoresheet). That's the 2nd straight game they've been credited with more hits than their opponents.