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Game 76: Oilers 7, Avalanche 5

photo courtesy of Andy Devlin/Getty

Who could have predicted, after the Avalanche won eight games out of nine between February 26th and March 13th, that they would then lose four in a row, including all three games in a critical three-game road trip against divisional foes?  For a brief time, the Avalanche were sitting pretty atop the Northwest Division with 84 points.  That was on March 13th.  The Avs haven't won a game since, and now sit in fourth place, five points behind first-place Minnesota and barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The latest humiliating defeat came at the hands of the formerly-terrible Edmonton Oilers, who are now, especially with yesterday's 7-5 win over the Avs, very much still in the playoff fight.  

The Avs were terrible to start the game, allowing three goals by the Oilers in the first period, including one just fifty seconds into it.  Jose Theodore didn't even play fifteen minutes before getting yanked for Peter Budaj.  Not that it made any difference.

The Avs scored in the second period, with none other than Tyler Arnason lighting the lamp on the power play, but another goal by the Oilers four minutes later took the score to 4-1.  

Finally, the Avs showed some heart and some fire in the third period, with Ruslan Salei, Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hejduk each scoring a goal before five minutes had passed.  But, in typical Avalanche fashion, the miraculous tie score was erased less than twenty seconds later when Marc Pouliot (who?) scored his first goal of the season.  Talk about demoralizing.  Super rookie Sam Gagner would make it 6-4 six minutes later.  John-Michael Liles tried to make it interesting with an unassisted goal at the 17:18 mark, but the Avs just didn't have it in them, and a hook by Paul Stastny on Marty Reasoner in the final seconds resulted in an automatic empty net goal which sealed the deal and nailed the coffin or some other stupid cliche means "won the game for the Oilers."

It's good that the Avalanche had a brief rally in the third period, and it's good to see them score five goals.  But none of that matters.  Allowing seven goals in a loss to a divisional foe during one of the most important games of the season has no silver lining.  None.

Terry Frei sums it up quite well in his excellent game recap:

In barely more than a week, the Avalanche has gone from first place in the Northwest Division to sweating just making the postseason, period.

Maybe it's worse than that.

Because of the way the Avs are playing and the continuing drama unfolding in the training room, they are getting close to "Mora Territory," that realm of incredulous italics between quote marks, as in: "Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs?"

In each of the last four losses, the Avalanche failed to score first.  In almost every game, they looked unprepared and undisciplined from the very beginning.  I think this simple, straight forward quote by Joe Sakic about yesterday's loss says volumes:

"We weren't ready to play this one..."

Now, that quote can be read two ways.  Either the players just came out in the first period and didn't care, didn't play hard enough, and it's all their fault.  Or---and I admit this is pretty paranoid and maybe a major bit of reaching---they weren't prepared for the game by the coaching staff.  Super Joe, infamous for his simple, matter-of-fact comments to reporters' questions, could be speaking in code these days.  Is he blaming himself and the other players, or are his quotes a veiled cry for help?  Is he trying to tell the world that the coaching is at fault without actually saying it?  I wonder, but that's probably just me.

And speaking of Joe Sakic, he scored his 1000th and 1001st assists of his career, helping on goals by Arnason and Wolski.  I guess that counts as a silver stitch, not enough for a lining.

Nashville won last night, and obviously so did Edmonton.  The Predators are now just two points out of the eighth spot in the West, and Edmonton is three.  If the Avalanche continue to lose, it's quite possible that their playoff hopes will be crushed and they will once again be enjoying the fine Colorado spring on the golf course.  Which, after the last four games, they probably deserve.

Remember that it was Nashville that ended the playoff hopes of the Avalanche last season, too.  How depressingly poetic.

The next game for the Avs is back at home against the Flames on Monday night, if the Avs even show up at all.  Hopefully they haven't decided to pack it in the rest of the year, but it's starting to look that way.

Stars of the Game:

  1. Sam Gagner (2g, 0a)
  1. Ales Hemsky (0g, 3a)
  1. Joe Sakic (0g, 2a)

Kittens Killed: