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Game 67: Avalanche 2, Canucks 1

photo courtesy of David Zalubowski/AP

The Avs absolutely had to win last night against the Canucks, and they did.  It wasn't flashy or all that impressive of a win, but it meant two points in the standings for Colorado and none for Vancouver, who now slips down to ninth in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs.  The Avs moved up to seventh.

The big story of the night was Peter Forsberg's return, but it was two younger players who stole the show.

The game got off to a relatively slow start, with Tyler Arnason predictably losing the opening faceoff and then both sides exchanging a few chances here and there.  Both goalies looked sharp from the beginning, and it was clear that a high score wasn't in the cards.  

At the 9:12 mark, Wojtek Wolski broke free in the Canucks zone and shot a laser pass to Paul Stastny, who wristed a shot top shelf past Luongo to give the Avs an early lead.  The near-sellout crowd erupted in a way I haven't heard in a long time.  

Despite considerably out-shooting the 'Nucks in the second period, the Avs gave up the lead after Adam Foote took a stupid hooking penalty and Ryan Shannon scored on the power play.  That one goal would be Jose Theodore's only screw-up of the night.  He finished with 26 saves and a save percentage of .963, another extremely impressive game for him.  He even took a knee to the head at one point, shook it off, and played just as well afterward.  

The game-winning goal came early in the third period when John-Michael Liles saved a kitten with a great slapshot from the point.  That goal was only his third of the season and his first since November.  We idiots here in the blogosphere have been griping about the lack of shooting from the point during the power play pretty much all season, and Liles' score is definitely some validation for us, just like Ruslan Salei's goal was a couple of games ago.  Like I said in the game thread, it's not rocket science.  Point shots = power play goals.

The Avs held the lead despite increased pressure from the Canucks in the third period.  The win was Colorado's fourth in a row, and they haven't lost with Adam Foote back in the lineup, despite his silly hooking penalties.

So how did Peter Forsberg do?  Well, the short answer is "very good."  The longer answer is that he started the game skating very cautiously, and his first two shifts were tepid affairs, with him avoiding contact and moving fairly slow.  That hesitance wore off pretty quickly, though, and he started to look like the Foppa of years past.  He was solid on the puck, his head was always up, and he found his linemates Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk with some really great passes.  Those three didn't score, but they had great chances and scared the hell out of Luongo.  I don't think Forsberg was quite as amazing as I've seen him, but he was solid and should only get better---barring any injuries, of course.

I do want to commend Joel Quenneville for leaving the Sakic-Hejduk-Forsberg line together all night long, even though they didn't score.  They will score, and often, if left together.  Even though Q juggled the lower lines constantly (Arnason played at times with Jones, McLeod, Lappy, Guite, Wolski and Brunette, if not others), he left the old guys together.  Good work, Q.  Keep it up.

Speaking of Coach Q, Greg at the Fanhouse posted a piece outlining my complaints about the Avalanche coaching staff this season, and though he disagrees with me, he gave the criticism a pretty fair shake.  That's more than we've gotten from talk radio, that's for sure.  If I left out anything in my list of Q's sins, please feel free to comment to Greg's post and add more.  

The Avalanche next face Anaheim (again?) at home on Thursday.  Beating the defending Stanley Cup champions (who have been on fire lately) will go a long way to confirming the rumor that the Avs are a playoff caliber team.

Stars of the Game:

  1. John-Michael Liles (1g, 0a)
  1. Paul Stastny (1g, 0a)
  1. Jose Theodore (26sv, .963)

Kittens Killed:

I'm still working on a good icon for "kittens spared," so bear with me.  The existing masterpiece (hat tip to Rookie) doesn't look very good in tiny form, so I'll have to play with it some more.  Rest assured, it's coming.