Wow, what a roller coaster. A few hours after the Calgary Flames lost a key game to the Blackhawks, the Avalanche were in position to get some traction in the playoff race. All they needed to do was beat the San Jose Sharks - the team they could play in the first round of the playoffs.
It didn't start out well. Just over 8 minutes in, the Sharks scored two goals less than a minute apart and it looked like I was in for a long night. When San Jose made it 2-0, Joe Sacco called a timeout, but I thought the best move there would have been to pull Craig Anderson. He again was not on top of his game tonight, but my motivation was more to shake up the team in front. As it turned out, they turned it around just fine.
A few minutes later, Kyle Quincey was called for a phantom tripping penalty and I was throwing up in my mouth. Not only did the Avs kill it off, though, but Radar O'Reilly intercepted the puck just as the non-penalty expired, breaking Quincey in all alone on Evgeni Nabokov. Quncey buried it, erasing several months of bad will I've been feeling towards him.
The Avalanche would have two more penalties to kill off in the first, both by Stephane Yelle (these two were actually legit). That was it for the Avs on the penalty front - the final 6 minor penalties were committed by San Jose. Well, 7 if you count the ridiculous, uncalled cheap shot by Rob Blake on Peter Mueller that sent Mueller hard into the boards. After lying prone for several minutes on the ice after the "hit", Mueller was helped off the ice and did not return.
If he misses any amount of time, it would be a severe blow to the hopes of the Avalanche. Mueller has been sensational with the Avalanche. His 2 consecutive 2nd period goals were beauts, and gave the Avalanche a 3-2 lead after two. And it was his hustle streaking up the left wing early in the 3rd that led to Paul Stastny's goal to give the Avalanche a commanding 4-2 lead. Oh, and I love, love, love the PA guy chanting "Mueller....Mueller....Mueller" after his goals. I even like it more than seeing some crazed presumed MHH reader dressed as the Highlander in the stands.
Okay, if you've watched the Avalanche, you know that whole commanding 2-goal lead thing is pretty much total BS. The Avalanche squandered another one tonight, but I don't think this was one of their typical 3rd period chokes. The Avalanche played well and kept the offensive pressure on (17-5 advantage on shots). I'd chalk up San Jose's comeback to San Jose being a dangerous team that's difficult to contain more than I would the Avalanche hanging back. For once, at least.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, the result was the same - another blown lead. Thanks in part to a completely boneheaded penalty as time ran out in regulation, the overtime frame was all Avalanche. San Jose didn't muster a shot in the 2:59 of OT. Heck, they barely handled the puck at all (I know they did at least a little, because Rob Blake was mercilessly - and deservedly - booed the couple of times he had the puck after his pathetic play on Mueller). At 2:59, John-Michael Liles tipped Ryan Wilson's point shot past Nabokov for the big game winner. The Avalanche won, with 4 goals coming from guys who've spent a considerable portion of the season in someone's doghouse.
The playoff implications are huge. The Avalanche now need just 2 wins to lock up a postseason appearance and can clinch as early as Tuesday (with a win and a little help from these same Sharks). Calgary needs 3 points in their remaining 3 games to have any shot of making the postseason. Things are looking good...but it's not a done deal yet.
But do I still believe? You're damn right I do.