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Pre-Season Game 6: Avalanche 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

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This game could have ended up worse than it did, no doubt about it.  Martin Havlat's last second goal nearly sunk the Avs, but they pulled out a win in overtime over the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3.

The Avalanche didn't start well, allowing Patrick Sharp to score on a power play in the first five minutes of the game.  But Wojtek Wolski answered quickly after, scoring at the twelve minute mark with assists from linemates Joe Sakic and Darcy Tucker.  I was skeptical initially, but the pairing of Tucker and Sakic seems to be working extremely well for Colorado at this point.

The second period was nearly identical to the first, with the Blackhawks scoring and the Avs answering.  Kris Versteeg scored for Chicago halfway into the second frame, but again Wolski evened it up.  Sakic again helped him out, but this time Ian Laperriere was the assisting pest.

Then, at the start of the third period, surprisingly reliable Brian Willsie found the back of the net with assists by Wolski and eventual hero Ryan Smyth.  Wolski would finish the night with two goals and an assist for three points.

The Avs held the 3-2 lead until literally the very last second, when Peter Budaj failed to stop a 23-foot wrister from Havlat with just a second left to play.  That power play goal was made possible by Smyth, who got called for hooking with just thirty seconds left on the clock.

Budaj didn't have to redeem himself in the extra period, though, because his teammates didn't allow the 'Hawks a single shot on goal.  And just three minutes into overtime, Ryan Smyth redeemed himself by deflecting a shot from Paul Stastny into the net to win the game.  It's funny how effective Smyth can be when he's allowed to sit in front of the crease.  It seems coach Tony Granato recognized the flaws in Joel Quenneville's old three-guys-below-the-goal-line strategy from last season, much to Smyth's delight, I'm sure.

Budaj stopped 22 of 25 total shots, so, despite the last-second screw up (granted it was a power play and he was being screened), he still had a pretty good night.  And anyway, the W is all that matters.  The Avs finished their pre-season schedule with a record of 4-1-1. 

Of note, again, is the amazing improvement by the Avs in faceoffs.  Joe Sakic had a respectable 8-14 showing, Ben Guite went 6-12, Tyler Arnason managed a solid 3-5 and Paul Stastny blew everybody away by going 10-14 for an amazing 71% success rate.  It's too early to tell, but it looks like somebody is finally making the team practice their draws. 

One thing the Avs still need to improve on is their discipline.  I understand that the team is pest-heavy now, but they gave the 'Hawks seven power plays, on two of which they scored.  Last season Colorado was one of the least-penalized teams in the league.  I have a feeling this year could be very different.

The Avs now prepare for the start of the regular season on Thursday at home against the Boston Bruins.  The final roster cuts will be announced prior to then.