Still in it.
It was a must win game, and the Avalanche have the perfect player for it: Captain Joe Sakic. With 4 points, Super Joe had a hand in every goal Colorado scored last night, and his one goal proved to be the game winner. Sakic has been sensational all season long, but he's turned it up a notch lately, with 18 points in his last 10 games (and 3 games with 3 points or more). Sakic has 95 points on the season. One more, and it will match his 3rd best point total in a Colorado uniform. His 60 assists are just 9 away from a career high as well. Not bad for a 37-year-old. Hell, I'm 36 and I got winded putting my daughter in the minivan this morning.
To be honest, seeing Sakic carry the team last night was a little depressing for me. This team has a ton of young talent, perhaps as much as any team in the NHL. Despite the promising future, though, it's hard to picture this team without the talents of their gentlemanly superstar. Some day, whether it's 1, 2 or 3 years from now, our Captain will hang up the skates for good. No matter how much talent remains on the team when he does so, there's going to a huge void to fill.
As for the rest of the team, I was very impressed with the Avs last night. They continue to play a solid defensive game. There were some breakdowns, but they've mostly been kept to a minimum lately. The Flames managed just 21 shots, which has been the hallmark of this club since the deadline (that Scott Parker has just invigorated the defensive squad!). The Avs were hungrier for most of the night, and Calgary seemed to go into "next game" mode once Colorado got the lead midway through the 2nd. A late dive by Dion Phaneuf led to a powerplay goal, and a last-minute spark from the Flames, but the Avalanche held on - barely - to keep their pencil-thin playoff hopes alive.
Highlights from the game...
It's the biggest game of the year for the Avalanche, which is a terrible time for Altitude to have technical difficulties. There was no video feed for the first 9 minutes of the game.
8:18 Dion Phaneuf gets the first penalty of the game - a trip on Ben Guite.
10:43 Thankfully, the video feed is restored.
9:23 Brad Richardson centers a pass to Ben Guite in front of the net. Guite fans.
8:57 Phaneuf crunches Ben Guite in the corner.
8:50 Guite stays with the play, forces a turnover in front and gets a shot off on Miikka Kiprusoff.
8:20 I still don't know if it's Jeff Finger or Ossi Vaananen tonight.
8:07 Brett Clark puts the Flames on the power play with a holding penalty. Altitude flashes to Kiprusoff. Kipper is the 3rd goalie to reach 40 wins this year, but just the 21st all-time. That says a lot about the increased workload that #1 goalies are seeing in the NHL.
6:42 Jarome Iginla is poised to take a nasty one-timer, but Milan Hejduk intercepts the pass and clears the zone.
6:36 Phaneuf (who else?) crunches Brett McLean in the corner. Phaneuf will end the game credited with 4 hits. I believe at least 3 of them were in the first period.
5:17 Finger is on the ice, answering my question.
2:11 Iginla hits the post on a 2-on-1 breakout.
2:00 Conroy goes to the box for holding.
1:30 Jeff Friesen scores a shorthanded goal. It's a bit of a fluky play. Robyn Regher fires the puck from well inside the blueline. Instead of just icing it, he throws it at the net. Budaj plays it awkwardly, and gives up a long rebound. Friesen, a speed merchant, gets to the puck ahead of Sakic and John-Michael Liles and fires a quick shot past Budaj.
:12 The Friesen goal could have killed the momentum the Avalanche were building in a strong first period. Still on the powerplay, the Avs tie it up with just 12 seconds left in the period. Sakic moves in with the puck. He almost loses it to a Calgary PKer, but gets it back and drops it back to Brett Clark. Clark shoots and it deflects off the skate of Friesen and into the net. In a carry over theme from Saturday's game, Clark sets a career high for goals with his 10th. 7 of his 10 goals have come in the 2nd half of the season.
17:14 Budaj grabs an incoming puck, and tries to leave it for Ken Klee. Instead, he flubs it, and it goes right to Alex Tanguay. Klee is able to break up the play, preventing a potential disaster.
16:58 Tyler Arnason is skating with normal 4th liners Mark Rycroft and Marek Svatos. I'm not 100% sure if this is a demotion for Arnason or a promotion for the wingers. My vote is the former. It really is amazing how a player can be the best player on the ice in one game, and almost invisible in the next.
16:01 Roman Hamrlik clotheslines Paul Stastny, earning a trip to the box.
13:39 Tanguay has a scoring chance right after a faceoff win for the Flames, but loses the puck before he can get a shot away.
13:00 Calgary makes it 2-1, and this one is ugly. The Flames break in, and the Avs defense breaks down. The play is up the right wing - Iginla, Tanguay and Craig Conroy all converge on that side. Both Avs blueliners follow to that side, as does Andrew Brunette, coming way out of position from his right wing position. This leaves a huge opening for Roman Hamrlik to sneak in. With Brunette out of position, Wojtek Wolski doesn't seem to know what to do, and Hamrlik ends up all alone to receive Tanguay's centering pass.
12:24 A bad situation gets worse, when Brett McLean hooks Kristian Huselius.
10:23 Phaneuf shoots from outside the blueline - a good enough shot that Budaj has to make a tough save on.
7:59 Tie game. Sakic breaks in on the left wing and Brad Richardson charges hard to the net. Sakic saucers a perfect pass to Richardson, who deflects it past Kiprusoff.
7:04 Tanguay gets called for hooking against Joe Sakic.
6:46 David Hale makes it a 5 on 3, with a hook on Brett McLean.
6:23 Milan Hejduk has the puck and an open net, but Brunette's pass hits him in the wrong place. Hejduk finds himself open quite a bit on the back door like that - you'd think teams would be a bit better prepared.
5:22 3-2. This mostly Stastny and Sakic playing keep away. Sakic has pinched in from the point, and Stastny is down low just to the side of the net. Sakic passes to Stastny. Stastny tries to center to Brunette, but his pass is deflected. The deflection goes right back to Sakic, who shoots. Kipprusoff makes the save, but Stastny is right there to roof the rebound.
3:31 The best save of the night for Budaj. Phaneuf fires it in, and someone from Calgary redirects it right in front of Budaj. Budaj changes direction at the last second and gets a toe on the puck.
2:12 Strange line combo: Sakic, Richardson and Laperriere, with Clark and Skrastins on defense.
1:43 Guite is back with Svatos and Rycroft.
1:29 Marek Svatos fires a long slapshot at Kiprussof, who makes a glove save. Rycroft appears to clip Kipper in the mask with a high stick. It seems odd to me that, when no penalty is called, no one from the Flames protests. A replay shows me why: it was actually Regehr's stick that conked his goalie.
18:27 Despite the lead, the Avs are still going for it. All the early chances are for Colorado so far.
16:28 Here's a good play from Jeff Finger. Liles is caught up along the side boards. Two Flames get the puck and head behind the Colorado net. Lots of defensemen would chase the forwards behind the net, leaving the front of the net open. Finger holds his position, though, and is waiting for the puck carrier on the other side. I know I've said this before, but Finger's fundamentals have really surprised me. I think his influence has been a factor in the improvement of the defensive play of Liles.
14:26 Friesen has a chance at a breakway, but Klee plays a good angle to get back in time.
13:41 Finger and Sauer are on the ice together, and break up a play.
13:02 Arnason is out with Brunette and Wolski. There's been some odd combos this period. I think that's mostly due to Quenneville making an effort to keep his freshest guys on the ice.
12:37 Sure enough, after a commercial break, the regular #1 line is out on the ice.
7:06 Tanguay flops to the ice behind the Colorado net, trying to land a powerplay. It doesn't work, and, in the end, isn't even the best dive of the game.
5:19 Joe Sakic breaks in on the right wing and beats Kipprusoff with that gorgeous wrist shot. As good as the shot is, it's probably a goal Kipper would want back. It's Sakic's 4th point of the night. His first assist came from the point, his 2nd came from the slot, his 3rd from the left wing side, and now this goal from the right wing. Colorado now has a 4-2 lead.
4:02 Phaneuf gets a hard hit on Mark Rycroft. Ben Guite immediately comes over and returns the favor. I've liked Guite since he joined the team, and, lately he's added a level of toughness to his game that makes him even more likeable. I wouldn't mind seeing him return as a 4th line center next year.
3:31 McLean makes a great play to beat an icing call. Following the play, McLean looks at Phaneuf angrily, causing Phaneuf to collapse dramatically to the ice. Without question, it is the most sensationally obvious dive I've seen all year. That Phaneuf would dive like that isn't at all surprising; lots of guys would try that, certainly a guy known to be a bit dirty and very much a team-first player. But, the fact that the refs called the penalty on McLean is just beyond belief to me. Mick McGeough and Tom Kowal were the refs. I'm not 100% sure who made the call, but I think Kowal was the ref in that half of the ice. A horrible call, no matter who made it, and one that almost cost the Avalanche the season.
2:39 Phaneuf shoots and Daymond Langkow puts home the rebound to cut the lead to 4-3. On the play, Karlis Skrastins moved out of position to try to get the rebound. He wasn't succesful, and the puck ended up going right to the stick of the man he was supposed to be covering - Langkow. Bad play by Skratch.
1:37 Colorado is doing a terrible job at clearing the zone. It's so bad, Peter McNab is moved to throw some slight criticism in the direction of the Avs, saying "the Avs need to be stronger at the blueline." On an Altitude broadcast, that's about as critical as it gets.
:00 The Avs weather the late storm, and hold on to win 4-3. The guy responsible for the "Eric Svatos" graphic early in the season must still be gainfully employed, as Altitude flashes a 4-2 final score.
Although they got a bit wacky at times, for the most part they were the normal combos, with Finger rejoining the lineup and Ossi Vaananen scratched.
C Sakic, LW Wolski, RW Brunette: 15:37 ATOI (EV), 3 pts (EV), 3 shots, -1
C Stastny, LW McLean, RW Hejduk: 11:24 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 4 shots, -2
C Arnason, LW Richardson, RW Laperriere: 12:56 ATOI (EV), 2 pts (EV), 4 shots, +2
C Guite, LW Rycroft, RW Svatos: 7:11 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 3 shots, E
D Clark & D Sauer: 17:47 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 4 shots, E
D Klee & D Skrastins: 18:59 ATOI (EV), 0 pts (EV), 3 shots, +1
D Liles & D Finger: 10:19 ATOI (EV), 1 pt (EV), 1 shot, E
- Sakic had 24:28 in ice time tonight, tops on the team and a season-high for him.
- Brett McLean (7) and Brad Richardson (5) were 9th and 10th respectively in goals scored in the first half. They each have 9 goals in the 2nd half, tying them for 5th on the team.