It's down to 6. It was touch and go for a while, but, ultimately, Saturday night turned out all right. The Avs won, and the Wild beat the Flames (in regulation, no less). I didn't expect to get to this point, but we can now say that Colorado is in the playoff hunt - just 6 back of the Flames, with a game in hand and 2 head to head matchups left. Not to be a total downer, but it still is a tall order. The Avalanche will need to keep winning, and that will become harder as the pressure intensifies. When this 8 game point streak started, the team was all but out of it, and I think that helped them loosen up and play a more relaxed game. Now that the playoffs are on their radar, will they be able to maintain this high level of play?
Highlights from the game:
20:00 The game features a matchup of two of my favorite NHL goalies - Curtis Joseph and Peter Budaj. Personally, I'd love to see Cujo in an Avalanche uniform next year. He'd be an excellent veteran backup.
19:14 I was pretty sure Scott Parker would play tonight, after the Coyotes took some liberties against us in the last game. I was wrong. Parker sits, and Marek Svatos takes his place on the 4th line. Svatos has missed the last 7 games with a groin injury. Svatos has reached the 70-game mark only once as a pro - for Hershey in the lockout season.
16:25 Fredrik Sjostrom shoots the puck at Budaj well after the whistle. Jeff Finger takes offense, and the two grab coincidental roughing minors.
13:00 Brett Clark shows good puck control as he calmly moves up ice while being harrassed by a Coyote. Being steady with the puck is one of Clark's best - and most underutilized - assets.
12:48 Josh Gratton goes off for hooking
12:33 Paul Stastny has a great scoring chance, but Joseph makes a great pad save.
11:57 Old friend Derek Morris makes it a 5 on 3, after holding Stastny.
11:48 Clark's shot from the left side of blue line rings off the post.
11:30 Clark's shot from the right side of the blue line is blocked by old friend Keith Ballard.
10:18 Stastny extends his point streak to 20 games, scoring glove side on a give and go with Joe Sakic. Colorado leads 2-1.
8:24 Clark avoids a hard hit from a Coyote.
7:24 Joe Sakic scores his 29th of the season. Klee starts it with an innocuous looking pass to Super Joe at the Phoenix blue line. Sakic, though, has already gotten separation by the time he grabs the puck, and only has Zybanek Michalek between him and Joseph when he takes one of his patented off-wing wrist shots to the opposite side of the net. Colorado has a 2-goal lead, and seem to be in control of the game. (Hint: that last sentence was not part of my original notes. I'm adding it now as a clever attempt at foreshadowing).
1:48 Matt Jones (who?) gets inside the zone and drops it back to Bill Thomas (who?). Thomas beats Budaj stick side, on a play that seemed to catch everyone (Budaj included) sleeping.
1:34 Nick Boynton grabs the 4th Phoenix penalty of the period with a hook against Tyler Arnason.
20:00 During the intermission, they showed the ridiculous cheap shot Jordan Tootoo took against Stephane Robidas. Robidas left the game in a stretcher and Tootoo, I assume, will have some time to go fishing with Chris Simon for a while.
14:59 Mark Rycroft gets called for a trip against Niko Kapanen. I believe it's Kapanen's 5th game against the Avs this season - 4 with the Stars and now one as a Coyote.
14:45 Shane Doan ties it right away, when a deflecting puck heads right to him at the point. Doan posesses a great shot, but this is the 2nd goal of the evening that I think Budaj should have been able to stop.
10:15 Daniel Carcillo (seriously, who are these people?) gets called for holding.
10:10 In other news, the Wild are beating the Flames 4-2 in the 3rd period.
9:34 Ballard has a scoring chance, but Budaj makes a strong save.
8:40 Jones pushes Hejduk hard into the boards. In the press box, Scott Parker breaks a chair.
6:26 Brad Richardson steals the puck in the offensive zone, something he's been doing quite a bit of lately.
6:03 A fluke play puts the Coyotes in the lead. Kurt Sauer has difficulty finding the puck in his skates. Carcillo does find it, and shoots it from behind the net, hitting Budaj in the shoulder and ultimately dropping into the net. At the time, Carcillo is credited with the goal. Later, it gets changed to Jeremy Roenick, when replay shows him at a local pub cheering extra hard for the puck to go in.
5:38 Before we even get a chance to feel sorry for ourselves, the Avs tie it up. Andrew Brunette, for the 874th time this year, makes a nice pass from the corner to Joe Sakic in front. The cameras catch Joel Quenneville on the bench writing something down after the play. I'm assuming it was something like "clone Sakic".
4:33 Ossi Vaananen gets called for holding behind his net. I was going to make a "for the ___th time" joke, but burned it on the play above. Seriously, though, would it be too hard for someone to talk to Ossi and point out that he is going to get called for that every single time he does it? Anyone know what's Finnish for "take the hint"?
3:28 It's over in Calgary - Minnesota wins 4-2 in regulation. The "control your own destiny" talk begins in earnest on the Altitude network.
2:14 Reinprecht and Doan break in on a 2 on 1. Reinprecht's pass to Doan is a bouncer, and Doan fans on the 1-timer attempt. Jeff Finger was trailing on the play, and catches up just in time to drive Doan into the boards. Finger is a pretty good skater - a nice skill to add to his physical presence.
1:02 Ken Klee trips Kapanen. It's another dumb, untimely penalty for Klee. There's simply no excuse for him to take that penalty there.
:28 On the powerplay, Morris crosses to Doan. Doan breaks his stick on the one-timer, although the shot still gets on net after it deflects off of Brett Clark's skate. Budaj has to extend his left skate out at the last minute to stop the redirected puck.
17:34 Liles is wincing on the bench after Roenick fell on him akwardly. In the spirit of playoff hockey, I'll just call it a lower body injury.
16:24 Ben Guite(!) makes it 4-3. Guite blocks the shot from Derek Morris, immediately gains control and gets a breakaway all alone up the left wing boards before beating Joseph high on the glove side.
14:58 Derk Morris gets caught by Wojtek Wolski admiring a pass: Wolski sends him flying into the boards.
13:04 Jeff Finger gets a hit on someone (couldn't get the number). It's a play I've seen him make a few times - a hard check on a player just inside the offensive zone.
12:25 Keith Ballard - a defenseman - somehow is able to break in all alone on Budaj. His shot goes high (not sure if Budaj got a piece of it or not). The Avs are getting a bit sloppy on defense.
10:33 Budaj makes a beauty of a pad save to preserve the 1-goal lead.
6:16 The Stastny line gets caught on a long shift, and can't change after an icing penalty.
6:01 Finally, they get a clear...
5:51 ...but a sloppy change leads to a Doan chance (and another Doan miss - he's got to be down on himself after this one; he had a ton of chances). Colorado has really improved their changes, and I'll chalk this up more to fatigue than effort.
2:16 Brad Richardson shows off two more skills from his repetoire - speed and a good shot. Richardson races in from the red line with the puck. His speed makes it tough for the Coyotes to get to him, and Hejduk trails in the slot forcing Joseph to divide his focus. Richardson keeps it and gets off a blistering shot that appears to shatter a water bottle. He has such a deceptively good shot, and one of the reason's for his turnaround this year is the fact that he's letting it fly a bit more. In March, he's averaging 2.6 shots per game. That's his best month, and a sizeable increase from his season average of 1.8.
1:51 And, just to seal the deal, Paul Stastny pokes home Brett McLean's rebound to make it 6-3. The goal is #25 on the year for Stastny (just 3 behind Jordan Staal in race for Don Cherry's undying affection) and his 69th point (just 7 behind Evgeni Malkin in the rookie scoring race). What a sensational season.
1:34 Closing things up with some Svatos appreciation. Svatos is listed at 5'10", 170 lbs and is about as brittle as a hockey player can be. But, that doesn't stop him from being one fiesty little S.O.B. out there. He takes hits and jumps right back up and gives one of his own. He won't back down from confrontation, even against, say, someone like Chris Pronger. On this play, Svatos checks 6'1" Travis Roche hard into the boards. Roche retaliates, and draws two penalties for it. Meanwhile, Mark Rycroft and Daniel Carcillo pair up after the play and get involved in a wild fight with both players landing several good punches.
1:24 Svatos, just 10 seconds after getting roughed up by Roche for the last hit, rides a Coyote hard into the Avalanche bench. You might question whether Svatos has lost his scoring touch this year, but he's certainly lost none of his heart.
No lines / stats today - I'll just update them all tomorrow for the Sharks recap. Lines were the same as we've seen in the recent streak, with the exception of Svatos playing for Parker.