Which is better? A 6-5 shootout loss where you get a point that you didn't deserve, or a 4-1 loss where you were in the game right up to the end? I thought the Avalanche played a good game tonight - better than the statsheet is going to reveal. In the end, though, a couple of tough breaks had them come up just short as the Pittsburgh Penguins used a couple of empty net goals (I blame Budaj) to turn a 2-1 game into a 4-1 game.
The Avalanche got off to a strong start and struck first with TJ Galiardi tipping in a puck to score a PP goal just 5:02 in. The Avs played solid hockey throughout the first period, but got burned when Brett Clark pinched in to deep in the waning seconds of the period. Probably not a good idea to let Crosby get behind you, right? Of course, the puck turned over at the Pens' blueline and the Penguins were off to the races with Mike Rupp and the Holy Diver engaging some nice give-and-go passing that led to an easy Crosby goal with just 6 seconds left. The best part? When the puck was dropped on the play, the Penguins had 6 players on the ice. How you miss a too many men call on a faceoff is completely beyond me. Tough break #1.
Tough break #2 happened in the 2nd period when Galiardi appeared to score his 2nd PP goal of the night. Unfortunately, the ref lost sight of the puck on the play and blew a premature whistle. Even though the puck was in the net before the whistle was blown, the rule is that the play is dead when the ref intends to blow the whistle (and a replay clearly showed the ref bringing his whistle up before the puck went in, in case that matters to anyone). That was midway through the 2nd period, and the Avs wouldn't get another powerplay that night. Some might say the officiating had a decided Pittsburgh tilt to it. I personally didn't see it, but I was probably too busy focusing on tough break #3.
Tough break #3 was the July 1st, 2008 signing of Darcy Tucker. Had we signed someone who actually gave a crap, or if we hadn't signed anyone and just sent $4.5 million to a Nigerian banker, we might have had a chance to win tonight. Because then, when Stastny's wide shot landed right into the slot in front of a wide open net, there might have been someone able to approach that puck with a sense of urgency a tad higher than lazy-stroll-through-the-park. Or, when Ryan "Get Me Off This Line" O'Reilly fires a centering pass back to a wide open trailer, it might have been someone with a stick on the ice instead of a thumb up his ass. Was that to harsh? How about this: I would trade Darcy Tucker to Riga for Tyler Arnason in a heartbeat.
Anyway, after the Avalanche squandered the few chances they were given in the game, the rest was inevitable. Adam Foote was called for hooking in the 3rd (I didn't feel this was a bad call, but I see that a few of you disagree) and Brett Clark followed that soon after with a stupid tripping penalty. Even a Tony Granato-coached powerplay (stick tap to Jibbles) is good enough to score on a 5-on-3. And they did. Technically, Foote was just out of the box so it was a 5 on 4, which is like saying that, technically, OJ was found innocent.
From then on, the Penguins absolutely shut the Avalanche down. The Avs managed just 1 3rd period shot and, to be honest, I credit Pittsburgh much more than I blame the Avs. The Pens played great defense - the way I'd like to see our team play more consistently. Whether the Avs tried to dump and chase or carry in, the Pens were all over the puck. It was an impressive performance.
Speaking of impressive, it's too bad that an excellent effort by Peter Budaj was completely wasted. Budaj was superb tonight. He didn't give up those dreaded rebounds that has everyone's panties all bunched up. He was poised and seemed really confident for a guy who's been sitting as long as he has. I would have liked to see him get a win for his troubles tonight. But for a couple of tough breaks tonight, he would have.
Matt Duchene played on the left wing tonight with Paul Stastny (who leads the lead in faceoffs taken) and Chris Stewart. It was a good line, and the 2nd line of Galiardi, Wolski and Hejduk was decent as well. Obviously, there's not much to show for it other than Galiardi's goal, but I personally wouldn't give up on these combos yet. So, expect something completely different on Saturday in Columbus.