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Game 77 Recap: Flames Squeak Out 2-1 Must-Win in Denver

The game started about as well as Colorado could have wanted, sans scoring a goal.  Great energy by all three top lines as almost to a man, there was quick feet, crisp passes, and smart two-way play.  The defensemen were also very active, pinching, carrying the puck deep, shooting from the point; in other words, everything we've seen them do when the Avs actually win games. Sure, there were mistakes made in the first period, especially a few bull-fighter style neutral zone plays where the Calgary puck-carrier wasn't challenged until he was in the Avalanche zone (Engblom called them out on it during the 1st intermission for this one).  Rene Bourque had entirely too many opportunities in the first twenty minutes.  Two first period penalties including a Too Many Men call late didn't help, but the Av's PK unit was pretty stout (especially Yelle and Ryan O'Reilly with only one or two decent opportunities resulting from the short-handed situations. The Avalanche out-shot the Flames 13-9 in the first period and generated plenty of rebound opportunities, but didn't have the bodies in front to cash in on them.  I thought the top line especially had a great 20 minutes for several reasons: Chris Stewart was shooting from everywhere, T.J. Galiardi had his hustle setting on 11, and Paul Stastny was moving the puck well, backchecking like a beast and winning face-offs. Ryan O'Reilly had a STRONG first as well at both ends of the ice.

Calgary comes out of the locker room with some jump to start the second.  Aside from a great individual effort by Matt Duchene, the Flames generate the majority of the shots on goal in the early minutes of the second period.  The pace seems a tick slower than what was seen in the first, and it seems to be playing to the Flames' advantage.  The Avs get caught in a change because Darcy Tucker can't decide if he wants to play the puck or not and Yip can't get on the ice, back off, then on again before a 2-on-1 develops.  Scott Hannan plays it about as bad has he can and jumps the shooter, leaving Nigel Dawes wide open in the slot for the pass.  He beats a sliding Anderson to get the Flames on the board first.  The middle of the period sees the Can't-Clear-It Monster rearing it's ugly head and I start to get a bad feeling in my tummy.  No sooner do I start feeling green when Mueller blocks a pass in the neutral zone and drives into the offensive zone, forcing Backlund to take a holding penalty.  We get to see the Colorado power play for the first time.  It starts with some great puck movement and John-Michael Liles hammers a one-timer but Kiprosoff gets a pad on it to make the save.  The second half of the man-advantage sees too many pretty plays at the blue line which generates odd- and even-man rushes for Calgary while short-handed.  Stewart caps off the PP with a good shot, but Galiardi can't get a stick on yet another rebound.

Large chunks of the second period feature the Avalanche breakout reaching the red line before turning around and going the other way.  Other little things start to creep into the game, all of which spell trouble for Colorado.  The face-offs seem to be going the Flames' way more often than not now, the hitting has disappeared, and Calgary is easily setting up and running the cycle in the Av's zone.  The Flames sure aren't sitting on the lead, but I don't know if that's so much by design as it is that the Avs aren't really doing anything to force them into a defensive position.  The Avalanche do manage some nice plays toward the end of the period and the momentum seems to approach an equilibrium.  Mueller makes several great plays in the period and springs Milan Hejduk with a cross-ice breakout pass that the Duke snaps on net with his gorgeous wrist shot.  Three great shifts by the top two lines in the waning minutes of the period start to tilt the ice a little, but most of the good plays by the Avs seem to be happening in the neutral zone or the top of the offensive end.  Some single opportunity chances are generated but there are a couple more rebounds that don't find their way behind Miikka Kiprusoff as they are never touched by an Avalanche player.  Shots nearly even after two periods with Colorado holding a slim 24-23 advantage.

Calgary starts on their heels for the first 45 seconds or so of the third, but the shots aren't really coming.  Then the Flames set up shop in the Avs end behind the net and after about a minute of possession, Rene Bourque wraps the puck around the net.  The puck pops in front of the net and a soft clear by O'Reilly goes right to Cory Sarich who fires it on net for the second Flames goal of the game.  It appears that Avalanche-killer Bourque may have gotten a piece of it and he's credited with the goal.  Craig Anderson's body language isn't great after than one.

A few shifts later, the Avalanche penalty kill makes another appearance after an accidental high-stick by JM Liles in the offensive zone.  The Avs do a great job of keeping the play to the outside and the Flames don't manage a shot on goal during the opportunity.  Liles comes out of the box with some fire and manages to negate an icing immediately after the PK.

The first line gets a dump in after a faceoff and begins to control the play all over the Flames' zone.  Some calm passing and give-and-goes result in several shots on goal before an attempted wrap-around dump is stopped by Kyle Quincey and put back into the corner to SoS.  He drops to Stewart who throws it to a wide open Galiardi who doesn't miss from there. He buries the puck to get the Avalanche back into the game with a 2-1 score!

Next shift after the goal and Brandon Yip puts on a show for the capacity crowd in the Pepsi Center.  He nearly scores on two sepearte opportunities on the same shift and the Avs are buzzing.  McNabb says "The Avs want it more!" about a half-dozen times.  Yip and Duchene generate one hell of a chance, but Kipper makes a better save.  The building is electric and the Flames appear to be on thier heels. McLeod forechecks like a beast a couple of shift later, throws it around the net to Yip who one-touches it to O'Reilly for a HELLAVA shot with an equally impressive glovesave by Kiprusoff at about the seven minute mark.  Ryan Wilson make a ridicoulously well-timed pinch, the Avs work the puck deep, and a wrap-around attempt squirts to a crashing Stewart who appears to bury the second Avalanche goal of the game, but the referee immediately waves it off!!??!!?? Turns out Kipper got a pad on it for his best save of the night.  So close...

The Flames respond with some good shifts immediately after the big save, aided in at least one instance by Anderson's puck-handling skillz.  No matter how this game finishes, I will remember watching Cumiskey skate backward in his own zone, loading up the breakout, and I swear he broke the space-time barrier and started moving forward AND backward at the same time.  His speed gets the puck deep and another good keep-in at the blue line results in a weak bouncing puck on net.  Around 2 minutes remaining, the Avs are trying to get the puck deep to get Anderson out of the net, but they don't manage it due to a good forecheck by the Flames and some hope-and-prayer passes through the neutral zone that are easily broken up.  They finally get it deep into the offensive zone with about 35 seconds left when the Flames ice it toward the empty net.

Sacco burns his timeout for the offensive zone faceoff play with the empty net.  The Avs manage a couple of shots that are wide or blocked before the buzzer sounds, but to no avail.  The Avs go down 2-1 in a must-win game. Kipper was the difference-maker in the 3rd period where the Avs were the much better team for the majority of the period.  Colorado manages the rare feat of out-shooting an opponent (36-27), but don't get the typically-Corsi-resultant-win.  In the end, the great effort in the third period is too little too late and as a result the Avs are tied in points with the Flames with a game in hand and the tie-breakers, barely clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot.  All is not lost, but it sure as hell isn't found yet either.

3 Stars: