The Avs Win a Wild One in Minnesota
Photo by Jim Mone (AP)
My wife was there watching with me throughout the 2001 playoffs and we both cried like babies when we saw Ray Bourque raise the Stanley Cup (well, she cried; I had something in my eye). But she hasn't been able to keep up with the Avs over the years, and has barely watched any of their games this year, instead relying on my often dire updates to keep track of the team. With a day off today, she took the opportunity to stay up last night and keep me company during the game. She was polite, but after watching the way the Avalanche kicked butt last night, I'm sure she had to be questioning my judgement - the Avs looked just fine to her.
A few times this year - against Buffalo on October 25th and Vancouver on November 12th, for example - the Avs have looked to me like a Cup contender. I'd include last night's game in there as well. Although they gave up 5 goals last night, they were finally clicking on all cylinders offensively. The Avs got a goal from each of their 4 lines last night. I'm not going to go back and check, but I'm just guessing that's the first time we've seen that this year. Really, everyone played well offensively and 9 of the 12 forwards registered a point.
The Wild struck first on a rebound goal from Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but the Avs were able to answer quickly when Marek Svatos outhustled a defenseman to a loose puck and fired a masterpiece of a shot under the arm of Minnesota's Nick Backstrom. 3 and a half minutes later, Ian Laperriere made a great pass to David Jones in front and Jones put it away for his 2nd goal in as many games.
The Wild have the 2nd best PP in the league, so one tactic might be to try to stay out of the penalty box. Or, you could try the Ryan Smyth method. Smyth got called for hooking late in the 1st and the Wild took all of 6 seconds to convert. Smyth was unhappy with the call to begin with, and resumed his chirping after the goal earning him an immediate trip back to the box. The ridiculous Wild PP took a little longer to convert on this one, but convert they did early in the 2nd to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead.
That's the point in the game where I figured the Avs were done. You can't give the lead away to a team like the Wild, especially on a boneheaded move like the Smyth penalty. Happily, I was wrong.
The Avalanche began a Backstrom barrage in the 2nd period, scoring 4 goals (tying an all-time high against the Wild at home). Stastny was first, beating Backstrom witha backhand at the 3:49 mark (probably the one soft goal the Avs scored all night). That tied the game, but the real turning point came about 5 minutes later. With the Avs on the powerplay, Marek Zidlicky had control of the puck and had all the time in the world to clear. Instead, he decided to act like Bobby Orr and circle back in his zone. He made a hard around to Bouchard, who got tossed off the puck by Stastny. Stastny moved the puck to Hejduk who waltzed in (not literally - that would look silly) and made a brilliant shot look easy. 8 minutes later, Lappy found TJ Hensick at the blueline. Hensick took the pass and skated by Marc-Andre Bergeron as if he was standing in a vat of cement. Hensick scored easily for his first of the year. A minute and a half later, the top line was back at it. This time, Ryan Smyth skated in hard around Zidlicky and to the net. Backstrom made the save, but Stastny was there to bang the rebound home. With that goal, the Avs had a 6-3 lead. The 6 goals given up by Backstrom (he was pulled after the period) was a career high for him. Not surprisingly, the 6 goals was a season low for the Wild. Actually, 4 was the most they'd given up before the Avs rolled into town.
The game wasn't over, though. The Avs had to weather a strong comeback from the Wild. David Jones was called for tripping late in the 2nd. This time, it took all of 7 seconds to score (their first PP goal was 6 seconds in). With this goal, the Wild were 3-3 on the PP and had needed just 1:24 to score those 3 goals. Vs commentator called their play "unconcious", and I agree. It was deadly. The Wild had one more opportunity midway through the third when Brett Clark was flagged for hooking. This time, the Avs managed to kill it off and that was huge. Brent Burns scored to make it 6-5 at the 14:00. The play was reviewed to see if he had kicked it in, but no one seemed to notice that he interfered with Budaj on the play (and, by the way, we don't need the refs to announce the review results - just a hand signal for "goal" or "no goal" will suffice, thanks).The Avs were able to hang on, and got a big assist from Bergeron who tripped Hejduk with a minute left to kill any chance of late-game heroics.
It was an intense game and a big win for the Avs. It moved them into 4th in the NW and to within 2 points of the 8th spot in th West. It also inched them to within 3 points of their total at the 24-game mark last year. That's the closest they've been to last year's pace since November 2nd. It was great to see everyone play well, especially up front. I'm fearful I'm getting set up for another heartbreak later this week but, for now, I'm happy. And my wife has no need to know that this game was an anomoly.
Everything was the same as Saturday's game against Tampa Bay. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they won't change against Nashville either.
- One dead giveaway that I was watching the game on Vs and not Altitude: when Cody McLeod and Craig Weller had their wrestling match in the 1st period, they cut to the fight immediately and not 30 seconds into the fight.
- Stastny led the Avs - well, both teams,actually - with 7 shots.
- Brian Willsie assisted on the first Stastny goal for his first NHL point of the season.
The Avs are in take on the Predators in Nashville on Thursday and then travel to Dallas the next night take on the lowly Stars.