Tuning into tonight's game, one would expect, based on past experiences, that the Colorado Avalanche would be subjected to a signature trap game that always seems to accompany the Minnesota Wild. If the first five minutes were any indication, we weren't going to get what we thought.
First, Ryan O'Reilly nabbed his 20th goal for the season at the 4:41 mark, thanks to some great play by Matt Duchene. Dutchy knocked the puck out of the air and drew three guys to him. He deked and squiggled his way between all three and floated a pass across the slot to Factor, who was moving in on net totally unmolested. Darcy Kuemper was a bit mesmerized by Dutchy and left a wide open corner of the net for #90 to bury it.
Then, frustration mounted about 30 seconds later after a routine stop by the Wild netminder. Words were exchanged, and some shoving turned into a bout between Cody McLeod and Clayton Stoner. With the five minute major, Highlander tied Adam Foote for most penalty minutes of a player in an Avalanche uniform at 948.
Shortly thereafter, Gabriel Landeskog was called for hooking, putting Minnesota on the power play. It didn't take long for the visitors to convert on their man advantage. Ryan Suter sent a shot on net from the point and Zach Parise grabbed the rebound, knocking it past Semyon Varlamov to tie it up at one.
About halfway in the first, the Avs got their first opportunity on the power play. Erik Haula had to interfere with Nathan MacKinnon to control him. The best scoring opportunity was a breakaway from the Wild on a short-handed bid. Varly stood tall and kept the biscuit out of the basket.
Duchene also used his skill to draw a penalty. Speeding into the offensive zone, Jonas Brodin resorting to a sprawling trip to stop him. It appeared as if a game of "Anything that you can do, I can do better" was busting out because MacKinnon forced yet another illegal move by Minny, this time tripping on Stoner, extending the Avs' man advantage for another two minutes. Why is Stoner so anxious to spend time in the penalty box? I wonder if he is taking advantage of new Colorado laws in order to live up to his name. Refs should check out what is in that paper bag under the bench.
Sadly the awesome moves to pull the penalties were all for naught as only shot got on net, one that was easily stopped by Kuemper. The period wound down, and the teams left the ice knotted up with one apiece.
Jamie McGinn decided to throw his excessive weight around and absoultely crushed Nate Prosser right in front of the Avs bench. While Minny was all a flutter over that hit, John Mitchell cruised up the middle and floated an easy one five-hole to give the Avs a two-to-one lead. Fun fact: Duchene got his second assist of the night on that goal. He may not be scoring, folks, but he's making sure others do.
A rush into the Avs zone and a buzzin' around the Avs' net forced the home boys to take a penalty with Tyson Barrie sitting two for hooking. The Wild did everything they could, but Varly showed the fans why he got the $29.5 million contract today to hold the elves off the board.
Paul Stastny decided he wanted in on the action, starting with a sweet behind the back, one-touch pass to Erik Johnson. EJ's rebound found Pauly Walnuts just outside the crease, and just like that, the burgundy and blue were up 3-1.
Unlike previous games, the Avalanche did not suckle at the teat of the two-goal lead. A MONSTER shift by Duchene, O'Reilly, McGinn, Barrie, and Nick Holden delivered shot after shot after shot. Some made it on net, some sailed just wide, but the series gave the Wild fits. The commercial break gave the Minny boys a breather, but it didn't help. As soon as the puck dropped to restart the game, MacKinnon sent a pass through the seams to Mitchell. Kuemper tried to glove it Malkin's shot, but the puck bounced up and landed in Maxime Talbot's lap. The goal beckoned Niklas Backstrom from the bench for a goalie swap and put the Avalanche up 4-1.
The Wild were clearly frustrated as on the very next shift Torrey Mitchell snuggled up to Nick Holden a little too much, and the Avs went on yet another power play. Just as those that came before it, though, the two minutes passed with little threat. The second period horn sent fans to the beer lines with four goals to one dancing in their heads.
McGinn got another good hit on Prosser, who finally said, "Enough." The two dropped gloves for a quick bout. Fatty definitely got the best of his opponent, although most of his punches landed on helmet or visor. Still hate that rule.
In an ill-advised move, Talbot got caught slashing the wrists of Suter. Yes, Avs fans in the Pepsi Center. That was a legit penalty. Fortunately, the penalty killers--with some help from the post--stuffed the chance.
Huge melee broke out after a great glove save by Varlamov was punctuated with Kyle Brodziak giving a poke at the Colorado goaltender. Landy took exception to that and pounced on him. Then Cooke jumped in, but Guenin tangled up with him and that dance moved to its own spot on the dance floor. Meanwhile, Hejda wasn't okay with his captain getting his face shoved into the ice, so he joined the fray. O'Reilly showed up to pull everyone apart, but that didn't stop Guenin and Cooke from continuing their tango. Lots of guys in the box after that.
The Wild accomplished what they wanted with the scrum, causing the Avs to be a little off their game and nabbing another goal. Of course, the fact that Parise is an otherworldly shooter didn't hurt. The goal buoyed Minnesota, which got some of its best shifts on the night in over the next few minutes.
As has been typical for the Avs when holding a two- or three-goal advantage, the lead dwindled. Another goal, this time by Mikael Granlund, brought the game within one goal with just over six minutes left in third. No one should be surprised by the fact that the Wild just poured on the effort after that.
Fortunately, the Avs realized they couldn't just sit back and let the Wild take control. Again, #s 9, 90, 11, and 4 had a fantastic shift that set up the next group of guys to score. In a beauty of a play, MacKinnon picked up the puck at the blueline and had a sexy breakaway, sniping one home and making it look easy.
Sadly, the two goal lead didn't last because Jason Pominville came right back and made good on crashing the net. The pass by Granlund was what made that goal happen, though. Beauty of a pass across the slot.
That would be all she wrote, though, and by the skin of their teeth (again) the Avs pulled out a win. Unfortunately, the win is dampened by the fact that Stastny left the ice midway through the third and did not return.
MHH Three Stars
- Nate MacKinnon (1g, 1a, game winner)
- John Mitchell (1g, 1a)
- Matt Duchene (2a)
- O'Reilly set a career record with 20 goals
- Duchene has 25 points in last 24 games
- Landeskog has 18 points in last 18 games
- Stastny has 14 points in January, most on the team this month
- Roy was very pleased with himself and his team for providing the fans an exciting third period, saying he's expecting to have a lot of folks in the Can on Saturday. I think we've discovered why the Avs give up leads in the third.
Afternoon game at the Can against the Sabres on Saturday.