Well, that's not how we drew that up. Had everything broken the Avs' way tonight, Colorado could have vaulted to 5th place. It didn't work out that way. Detroit and Nashville had the dreaded three-point game and as I write this, the Kings are leading the Dallas Stars. None of that really matters, though, because the Avalanche needed a win tonight to make anything happen.
With the Calgary Flames embarrassing loss earlier in the day, the Phoenix Coyotes clinched their first playoff berth since 2002. So, you could understand if they didn't have things quite ramped up to playoff intensity tonight. The Avalanche? They should have come out like gangbusters tonight.
That's not to say the played terrible, but I personally was expecting a little more juice. This game didn't have much in the way of flow early on, and it certainly didn't have that playoff intensity I thought we'd see. Neither team really much in the way of sustained pressure. Although each team scored a goal in the first, both were flukes: Derek Morris' slapper bounced in off of Kyle Cumiskey's stick and Kevin Porter's turnaround knuckler from way downtown fooled Ilya Bryzgalov to tie it 1-1.
In the second, Milan Hejduk (who was one of the few Avs to bring it tonight) nearly gave the Avalanche a 2-1 lead. But Bryzgalov made a big save and the Coyotes turned around and went to the other end of the ice where, of course, Wojtek Wolski beat Craig Anderson to instead give Phoenix the lead. Anderson passed Patrick Roy to set a franchise record for minutes in a season and he tied Roy for most games played (he's already passed him in most starts), but this was not a Roy-like game for Anderson. Wolski's goal should have been stopped and the same goes for Tyler Pyatt's weak turnaround attempt a few minutes later. It may not be popular to say this, but Anderson has been just average since the Olympic break and even if the Avalanche do make the postseason, they won't go anywhere with goaltending like that. That's not to put the blame on Andy, but he's definitely capable of playing better than he has been.
The Avalanche got a big spark late in the second when Matt Duchene pressured two defensemen to cough up the puck, which he promptly centered to a wide open Hejduk in front. Duchene and Hejduk had great chemistry on the night, despite the absence of Ferris Mueller (who missed the game - something about needing a kidney transplant). Marek Svatos and TJ Galiardi both spent time on the left wing for M&M, but neither seemed to click like Mueller did.
The Avalanche played their best hockey at the beginning of the 3rd period. They finally started to play like a team interested in playing when the playoffs commence on April 14th and had several shifts of sustained pressure in the Phoenix zone. Unfortunately, one of those shifts ended too early by a whistle from a ref who lost sight of the puck and the ensuing faceoff magically resulted in an odd-man rush for Phoenix and the game-clenching 4th goal. Phoenix scored two more meaningless goals and, yes, it's true that this game wasn't as disparate in play as the score would indicate. It's also true that Phoenix didn't play its best game tonight and this was a a (sorry Bob) winnable game for the Avalanche. With a little better effort, a couple more saves and a few less mistakes and I'm writing a different recap and not feeling like my Saturday night could have been better spent doing something else.
All is certainly not lost. As I'm putting the finishing touches on this dog, the Kings are now down 3-1 to Dallas. If that holds true (and there's nothing from today to indicate that it will), the Avalanche will in a position to jump up to 6th with a win tomorrow night in San Jose. If they bring their lunchbox, that is.