It's official. The great Cup teams with Sakic, Roy, Forsberg, Blake and the rest couldn't do it. The not-so-great non-cup teams of Arnason, Wolski, Theodore and Svatos couldn't do it either. O'Reilly, Duchene, Johnson and Giguere? Those guys totally did it. The Avs won their 8th straight game in a season on home ice tonight, dropping the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in OT. Although the Nordiques twice had 10-game winning streaks at home, the best an Avalanche squad had done in Denver was 7 straight back in 2003. And the Avs did win 8 straight at the end of the 99 season and start of the 2000 season, but that doesn't count.
There have been a couple of keys to the Avs' recent home success. The first has been goaltending. The Avs' have held the opponents to 2 goals or less in seven of the eight games. Do that on a consistent basis, and you're going to be in position to win a bunch of games. J.S. Giguere was again solid tonight. He gave up one goal early tonight to Pavel Kubina - a sneaky-good shot that he should have had but just barely missed. After that, he locked it down completely. I felt completely confident that Giguere would keep the Avs in the game and damn if it that isn't a wonderful - and somewhat foreign - feeling.
The other key has been terrific penalty killing. The Avs have killed of 24 of 28 powerplays over the streak, while scoring two shorties of their own. The PK was perfect tonight. Smothering, is more like it. All three Tampa PPs came late in the period and the Avs shut them down each time. The biggest came in the 3rd with Ryan O'Reilly going to the box with just 3 minutes to go in a 1-1 game. That's a "gulp" moment, but the lump in my throat went away almost immediately. The Avs' killers absolutely swarmed Tampa's PP - first Jay McClement and Gabriel Landeskog teamed up to get the puck deep, where Landy proceeded to fend off four Lightning defenders to hold the puck for a looong time. On the next shift, TJ Galiardi got a breakaway all alone for a great scoring chance. Superb job.
When the penalty expired, there was a key moment of game that had me reaching for my blood pressure pills. The Avs carried the strong PK play to some great 5 on 5 momentum as time was winding down. They got the puck deep in the corner and Dan Winnik's stick ended up catching Pavel Kubina in the face. It was unintentional, but a penalty for sure and it occurred, literally, right in front of the referee. I'm an Avalanche fan and all, but I can't believe they missed that one. Meanwhile, Kubina reacts to getting cut in the cheek by immediately dropping to the ice. Clearly, the cut was a deep one, probably going all the way down to Kubina's legs, rendering them completely inoperable. Seriously, Kubina, what the fuck? With the Avs dominating the play, Kubina writhed around on his hands and knees until the ref finally noticed the blood on his booboo and blew the play dead - just as the Avs were pressuring. In fact, they deposited the puck in the net just after the whistle, although O'Reilly had clearly batted it in. I hated every bit of this play. I hated the ref missing the call (although it could have easily cost the Avs the game), and I really hated Kubina abusing the system like that to get the play whistled dead. That is weak sauce to be sure.
In the end, Kubina's antics might have gotten the Lightning an extra point, but the Avs were the one getting the win. After an exciting few minutes of back and forth in OT (bonus points to O'Brien at the end of the game for trying to bring us some 3-on-3 hockey again), Matt Duchene caught Mathieu Garon angled poorly on the side of his net. Duchene fired a shot at Garon's left leg that was sticking out a big instead of being flush with his right, and the puck deflected right in. Garon was terrific all night and that was really his one mistake of the game. Thankfully, the Avalanche were able to take advantage of it.
Overall, this wasn't the most exciting of games. It was kind of chippy early and late, but was fairly tame for most of the rest of the game. The Avs started out slowly in the game, but did get steadily better as the game wore on, another plus. Those slow starts won't work on the road, of course. But that, as Alton Brown would say, is a different show.
MHH Avalanche 3 Stars of the Night
- J.S. Giguere - 29 of 30 saves
- Ryan O'Reilly - 5 shots, a big goal, a monster in faceoffs and 23 minutes of ice time
- Avalanche PK - 1 shot by Tampa Bay in 6 minutes of PP time, 4 of that with top killer McClement in the box
- Landeskog, O'Reilly, Hejduk
- Duchene, Stastny, Winnik
- Malone, McClement, Galiardi
- McLeod, Porter, van der Gulik
- O'Brien, Johnson
- Hejda, O'Byrne
- Hunwick, Elliott
- The Avalanche moved to a game above .500 on the season. Meanwhile, Joe Sacco evened up his coaching record at 91-91-18
- The Avs' last 5 wins have all been by one goal
- The Avs won 74% of the faceoffs tonight. Stastny won 19 of 22 and O'Reilly won 11 of 15. Impressive.
- Great line by Rick Peckham, the Lightning's pbp guy, on the Avs' young team: Most team's need a powerplay quarterback; this one needs a babysitter.
NHL.com Recap & Highlights
Having definitively cured their early home woes, the Avalanche now try to end their 9-game road losing streak in Minnesota on Boxing Day (a 4pm MT game). Let's hope it works: beginning December 31st, the Avalanche play 10 of 13 on the road.