In 2006, the Colorado Avalanche finished the season with 95 points, good enough for 7th place in the Western Conference. In 2007, the Avs again finished with 95, but, of course, that was one point too few. This year, the Drive for 95 is once again vital. If the Avalanche reach 95 points, they are in the playoffs no matter what the Predators and the Oilers do the rest of the way. Actually, 94 is probably enough; if we're tied at 94 with Nashville, we should get in based on the 4th tiebreaker - goal differential. But "Drive for 94" doesn't rhyme, so 95 it is.
The Avalanche would need 7 points in their final 4 games to reach that 95-point mark. That won't be easy, but this team has shown lately that they are perfectly capable of beating almost any team if they are willing to work for it. Last night was no exception, as Colorado extended their season-long dominance of the Vancouver Canucks 6-3.
The Canucks had played the night before in Calgary, and the Avalanche seemed eager to take advantage of any lingering fatigue. Colorado exploded out of the starting gate and controlled all of the early play. Jordan Leopold scored on the powerplay just 5:10 in. It was his second PP goal in as many games (and on the season). Not bad for a guy who wouldn't be playing if Adam Foote was healthy. Unfortunately, Leopold was injured in the game. It was his 593rd injury since joining the Avalanche.
The Canucks did manage to get back into the game for a little while. Daniel Sedin scored just as a penalty to Ryan Smyth was expiring at the 9:59 mark and then Taylor Pyatt lobbed a floater past Jose Theodore to improbably make it 2-1. The puck was taking a funky hop and was deflected a couple of times, but that was a dud of an effort by Theodore. Frankly, I thought Theo was fighting the puck all night long and this game could have had a disastrous outcome.
It didn't, though. Not long after the Canucks took the lead, Ian Laperriere took on Jeff Cowan and gave him a sound beating. The fight re-energized both the Pepsi Center crowd and the Avalanche bench. It was the 2nd straight game that Laperriere managed to swing the momentum without notching a point (take that, Roger Millions). From that point on, it was just a matter of time. Paul Stastny tied it at the 4:54 mark of the 2nd, finding a Milan Hejduk rebound on the ice next to a sprawling Roberto Luongo. Hejduk's shot was set up beautifully by a new linemate: Peter Forsberg. More on that in a bit.
Just over a minute after the Stastny goal, John-Michael Liles fed Cody McLeod with an excellent headman pass. McLeod found himself all alone on Luongo and he made it count, slipping it home 5-hole to make it 3-2. It was McLeod's 4th goal of the season and first in 35 games. And while it didn't end up to be the game winner, it was the one that effectively ended the game for the Canucks. Hejduk rifled a shot past Luongo at the 10:29 mark to make it 4-2, and at that point I was wondering when Luongo would be pulled. I only had to wait another 1:02; Ben Guite scored his 11th of the year depositing yet another puck found under Luongo into the net. Luongo gave way to Curtis Sanford at that point. The Canucks scored late in the period to make it 5-3 (another crappy goal given up by Theodore), but the damage was done. Colorado had dominated the period - 23 shots to 11 - and was in control of the game. Hejduk scored just 23 seconds into the 3rd period to close out the scoring.
This new line - Forsberg, Stastny and Hejduk - was tremendous. The players combined for 9 points and were +5 in the game. More importantly, though, was the additional dimension the line brought to the game. The 3 goals the line scored were all off the rush. The crisp, cross-ice passes the trio exhibited was a throwback to the glory days of the franchise, and seemed to confuse the heck out of the Vancouver defensemen expecting the usual behind-the-net work. And, while this shouldn't be the deciding factor, that style is infinitely more enjoyable to watch.
On Monday, I mentioned on the Times blog that I didn't really want to see Vancouver make the playoffs. I'd probably have to rethink that answer if I felt there was a good chance that we'd actually face the Canucks at any point. With the win last night, we're 5-1-1 against Vancouver on the year, and have outscored them 27-15. 3.9 goals a game? Luongo Schmuongo.
The lines started out like this, but before too long Forsberg and Ryan Smyth had swapped. Smyth had an interesting game to say the least, gathering 8 penalty minutes and just one shot on net. As time was expiring in the 2nd, he made the extremely ill-advised choice to fight with Alex Burrows (Burrows inexplicably ran screaming from Smyth like a scared schoolgirl). I would have been extremely irked if Smyth had injured himself fighting that pest, especially in a game that was already solidly in hand.
- The Avs scored 6 goals in a game for the first time since February 9th...against the Canucks.
- The Avs won a whopping 60% of the draws last night, just the 4th time this year the team has reached 60%. Tyler Arnason was an inexplicable 73%. After putting up back to back 17% faceoff "efforts", Arnason has won 63% of the draws in his last 3 games.
- Ruslan Salei had 5 shots, 4 hits and 3 blocked shots - all tops on the team (Hejduk had 5 shots as well).
The Avalanche host the Oilers on Friday. This one's rather easy: if the Avalanche win in regulation, Edmonton won't be able to catch Colorado and would be chasing Vancouver (and Nashville) for the final spot. The Predators will be in Columbus on Friday and the Canucks will be in Minnesota. The Avs are just a point behind Dallas and two behind Calgary, but the Flames have a game in hand while Dallas has two.