My 6-year old son said that the Avalanche are the "greatest team at hockey in the universe." That may be a wee bit of hyperbole, but the Avs did do what they needed to do today - get at least a point. The Avalanche get to exactly 95 points for the 3rd straight season and will now face these same Minnesota Wild in the postseason. Talk is that Game 1 will be played on Wednesday.
While the outcome of the game was enjoyable, we need to get one thing established. This game was not - as Mike Haynes claimed once or twice - a preview of the first round of the playoffs. The game did feature solid defense and superb goaltending at both ends of the ice, but hitting was virtually non-existent. Peter Forsberg was barely touched during the game, but I can guarantee that Minnesota's laissez-faire attitude won't be repeated when the games actually mean something. Other than some chippiness late, both teams seemed content to save the rough stuff for the postseason. Sean Hill seemed to be the only Minnesota player who didn't get the "lay off" memo and had 4 of the Wild's 8 hits (and also 2 of the teams 6 minor penalties). I would make a "'roid rage" joke here, but the truth is that Hill has impressed me with his toughness the last few times we've seen him.
As for the game glorified scrimmage, the Avalanche started as they had in the previous two games: behind. Mark Parrish scored a PP goal late in the first period to put the Wild up 1-0. The Avalanche tied it at the 5:25 mark of the second on a pretty goal by Paul Stastny (assisted, as usual, by Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg). Keith Carney scored his first goal of the season at the 16:32 mark, taking advantage of Jeff Finger getting stuck on the ice without a stick. At the end of the 2nd, the Wild led 2-1 and jibblescribbits was reaching for his credit card to order tickets for some Avalanche games in San Jose.
It didn't work out that way. The Avalanche scored 2 PP goals in the 3rd period on blistering wristers by Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk to give the Avalanche a 3-2 lead. Brian Rolston tied the game late in the 3rd, but a tie was all the Avalanche needed to get into 6th. The Wild had a late chance when Sakic took a penalty in the final minute, but could not convert. Neither team scored in OT and, in the shootout Jose Theodore stopped both shots he faced while Wojtek Wolski and Joe Sakic both converted on their chances.
As I mentioned above, I don't think this game has much meaning to next week's series, although it's worth noting (again) that all but one of the games between these clubs this year have been close. I expect things will be much more physical, especially with regards to Peter Forsberg. When these teams played on the 17th, the Wild were rougher on Forsberg than any other team this year by a fairly wide margin. Expect to see a LOT of Brent Burns draped over the back of Forsberg.
The late-season improvement of the powerplay continues to be a huge factor. Forsberg, Stastny, Sakic and Hejduk are really moving the puck well with the advantage. I don't think I need to tell anyone how critical the powerplay is to our postseason chances. The two goals tonight were both beauts, and, I hope, are just a taste of things to come.