I don't know what will happen the rest of the way, but, at least for now, last night looks like it could be the jump off point for a big turnaround for the Avalanche. The Avs desperately needed to win last night, but looked to be on the way to their 3rd straight home loss before winning the game in Dramatic fashion (note the capital "D"). Not only did Colorado pull out a win, but, for a change, they gained ground in the standings, with Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary all losing.
It didn't start out very promising. Florida's Chris Gratton was a one-man machine in the early going, showing flashes of the talent that has enticed (and, eventually, disappointed) so many teams over the years. The former 3rd overall pick has been traded at the deadline 3 times in his career, and might be looking at a 4th in a few weeks with Florida quickly dropping out of the race. I can only guess there were a few teams scouting both teams last night, and Gratton might just have fooled an organization into thinking he is capable of that kind of performance every night.
Wojtek Wolski scored first at 3:24, deflecting a Karlis Skrastin's pass off of his skate. From his body language, even Wolski seemed to think it would get called back (it looked like he might have guided it with a kicking motion), but the goal held up on review. After that, Florida took charge. At 7:00, Olli Jokinen buried Chris Gratton's post-ringer past Jose Theodore. Nathan Horton made it 2-1 at 12:42, and then, when Gratton made it 3-1 less than 5 minutes into the 2nd period, Colorado's playoff hopes seemed to be moving quickly from slim to none.
And, suddenly, the Tyler Arnason show kicked in. Arnason, inconsistent all year and dissed on this very website just a few days ago, simply went buck wild. At 6:23, after a great save by Theo to preserve the 2-goal deficit, Arnason took a Milan Hejduk pass at the Florida blueline and simply deked past 4 Panther defenders before beating Belfour. After Jozef Stumpel extended the lead back to 4-2 at 7:57, Arnason was a factor again, getting the initial play on the net that ultimately was put in by a pinching Brett Clark early in the 3rd period. Arnason was just crazy the entire game, making play after play in the offensive zone. His 9 shots were a season high, as were his 5:16 of PP ice time. Simply an incredible game from Arnason. I wish we saw that more often.
But, despite the effort from Arnason and the rest of the Avs, Florida still had a 4-3 lead with time running out in the 3rd. Colorado outshot the Panthers 19-4 in the final period, but, after Clark's goal, just couldn't seem to get that equalizer past the aging and decrepit Belfour. In the last 2 games, Colorado took late penalties to stifle any thoughts of a comeback. Last night, they stayed out of the box...and took advantage of the other team's mistakes. Florida took five minor penalties in the 3rd period - they might have well have just held up a "Please, Beat Us" sign. They killed off the first two power plays, but took two bad penalties in the final minute to give the Avs a 6-on-3 PP (an interference call on Bryan Allen and a delay of game to Ville "The Thrill" Peltonen). Finally, the Avs converted. With just 37 seconds left in the game, Joe Sakic won draw in the Panther's zone, got it to (who else) Tyler Arnason who got a nice backhander off on Belfour. The Bald Eagle stopped it, but, with just 3 Panthers on the ice, the rebound went right to Paul Stastny, and he didn't waste his chance. Colorado salvaged the game - and the season - in dramatic fashion. Still on the PP, Sakic scored just 25 seconds into OT to complete the comeback and, hopefully, build a tremendous amount of momentum for a playoff run.
Jose Theodore got the start, and played very well despite being hung out to try by a sloppy Colorado defense. With Budaj coming back to earth a bit lately, I suspect we will see a bit more of #60 betwen the pipes this month.
John-Michael Liles made his return tonight, and, not surprisingly, coach Joel Quenneville opted to dress 7 defensemen with Klee spending time on the 4th line (Rycroft was scratched).
C Sakic, LW Wolski, RW Brunette: 12:51 ATOI (EV), 2 pts (EV), 5 shots, -2
C Stastny, LW Svatos, RW Hejduk: 11:41 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 9 shots, E
C Arnason, LW McLean, RW Laperriere: 11:06 ATOI (EV), 3 pts (EV), 14 shots, +2
C Guite, LW Richardson, RW Klee: 9:26 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 0 shots, -3
D Clark & D Skrastins: 15:10 ATOI (EV), 2 pts (EV), 8 shots, +1
D Leopold & D Vaananen: 12:13 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 4 shots, -2
D Liles & D Sauer: 9:24 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 1 shot, -1
- After the game, Antti Laaksonen was waived. The Avs needed to clear a roster space for the returning Brad May. It was speculated they might send Ben Guite or Brad Richardson back to the AHL to keep Laaksonen, but the Avs made the right move here. Guite has been solid on the PK and terrific on faceoffs, two areas the Avs need. Laaksonen, unfortunately, has just had a miserable season.
- Leopold and Liles have played together in 6 games this season
- Colorado's PK hasn't given up more than 1 PP goal in any of the last 8 games.