The Avalanche clinched a playoff berth Saturday and the franchise's 7th 100 point season since moving to Denver on the back of Semyon Varlamov. He made 47 saves while John Mitchell scored the game winning power play goals as the Avs defeated the Sharks 3-2 in front of a standing room only crowd at Pepsi Center.
The Avs came out strong to begin the game, playing the first shift primarily on the Sharks defensive zone. Only 32 seconds into the game Duchene and McGinn both went for an elevated puck. Duchene's left knee took the brunt of the impact and he limped off the ice. Duchene would not return the game however was able to skate off the ice and walk into the room under his own power. Stay tuned for informative updates and hope for the best.
Shortly after, the scorching hot 2nd line struck for the Avs. After a strong forecheck by both Gabe Landeskog and Paul Stastny, the captain gathered the puck in the corner and dished to a crashing Stastny who, using his superior surgically enhanced vision, beat Stalock short side low. The play was started by a nifty MacKinnon pass between the Sharks defender's legs to Landeskog when entering the zone. The Calder favorite dangled the puck in the triangle between the defender's skates and stick before
Nate Guenin took an unnecessary interference penalty at 17:17. No reason to dump a guy there with the puck at the point, especially considering he was in good position and his player was not a threat on the play. The Sharks quickly capitalized on a nice Thornton pass from the corner and a deft Pavelski backhand past Varly. This is what happens when you leave premier goal scorers alone in front of the net.
Soon after, Erik Johnson was whistled for holding but the Avs kill was much better this time around. They had a couple of nice clears and a stroke of luck. Nick Holden saucered the puck down the ice where Dan Boyle attempted to get a glove on it around his blue line. The puck took a fortunate bounce to a wide open Cody McCleod who buried his breakaway attempt 5 hole for the Avs' 2nd shorty of the season. It was a smart play by McCleod to read that the Avs had possession and take a chance to pressure the Sharks defense. Congrats to Cody on hitting the career 50 goal mark. Just pluggin' away, as he would say.
The Sharks really put it on the Avs at the end of the first, increasing the shot differential from 13-11 with a couple minutes left to 18-11 by the end of the period. The Avs did not give up an odd man rush in the first period which is an area they have been pretty good at this year.
San Jose continued to dominate the play for the first 5 minutes of the second period due largely to a turnover by Landeskog at his own blue line. The Sharks were able to catch the Avs on a long shift and maintained a lot of zone time and created shots. Semyon Varlamov robbed James Sheppard's backhand attempt as San Jose continued to take it to the good guys.
Tyler Kennedy was called for hooking at 6:02 of the second period and Colorado capitalized. Erik Johnson walked down the far wall and fed the puck to Jamie McGinn in the slot. McGinn missed short side but John Mitchell was Evgeni on the spot on the back side and buried the puck after it bounced off the back boards to stake the Avs to a 3-1 lead.
The Sharks struck back shortly after a bad icing by Andre Benoit. Off the ensuing faceoff, James Sheppard beat Cliche out of the corner and found Dan Boyle, who had evaded Max Talbot's attention, on the back door. Boyle made no mistake and roofed it past Varlamov to cut the lead in half. Colorado was unhappy about the icing call but it looked correct to me.
From there the period really slowed down. Roy utilized his time out which worked to the desired effect. The Sharks took a couple of penalties which helped too however the Avalanche were unable to produce a shot on either opportunity, managing only 3 in the frame while ceding 11 against. It goes without saying that the extra man units miss Matt Duchene. A lot. He is the calming influence on the power play and gives them a primary option breaking into the offensive zone.
The third period began in a methodical back and forth fashion. The Stastny line picked things up with a good shift producing a quality chance and the Sharks responded with some good pressure of their own. Subsequently the Avs captain ripped a slapshot off Stalock's glove that fluttered inches over the crossbar. Later in the shift Landeskog nearly ended Couture with a hit in the neutral zone but it was a near miss. Couture was upset and will probably tweet out a porn link later in his upset state.
Thornton and McCleod were assessed matching minors resulting in some 4 on 4 action. Then Ryan O'Reilly was whistled for playing with a broken stick directly off the faceoff for his first 2 penalty minutes of the season. Somewhere in Canada, Jeff Marek cried tears of agony. That was a pretty shitty way for the streak to end. He didn't technically play the puck but he held the stick long enough where it was probably warranted. Varlamov stood tall and the Avalanche were lucky that Thornton was in the box. San Jose had some good chances but could not find twine.
The Sharks sustained some pressure and forced Nick Holden into a...holdin...penalty. Sorry bout that. Really it was quite a rodeo by both he and Sheppard and could have gone either way. During the delayed call, Marty Havlat blindly threw the puck to nobody at the point and down the ice towards the empty net Stalock no longer occupied. The puck went wide but that would have been the first time in my years that I'd seen that happen if the puck would have went in. Jibbles, how would that affect Corsi???
Colorado killed the ensuing minor with some great play by Varlamov and were able to keep the Sharks from many great chances towards the end of the period. Paul Stastny won a key faceoff with 11 seconds yet to seal the deal for the Avalanche.
The Avs are going to the playoffs! What else can you say, it has been a charmed year to this point. The culture shift under Roy and Sakic has been stark as the hall of famers have pushed all of the right buttons to this point. Now the attention shifts to securing home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Colorado is now 1 point ahead of Chicago with 1 game in hand. The Avs also own every tiebreaker known to man. The Avs have a tough remaining schedule and depending on how things shake out, may look at resting Varly and some others down the stretch. Especially if Duchene is out for a while.
Oh yeah, Duchene. Obviously the big concern going forward is his health. In his post game presser Roy indicated he would have an MRI Sunday. This team isn't going to give the Blackhawks a real challenge without Mighty Matt so hope for the best.
MHH 3 Avs of the Game
1- Varlamov - What else can you say about the guy? He was the difference, as he has often been, and has got to be a lock to be a Vezina finalist. He moved into the league lead in wins with 37 with his 47 save spectacle. Also, he is now our great interview in broken English guy, replacing Hejduk.
2- McCleod - The big shorthanded goal as well as drawing a penalty in the second period. He has been good lately and that play continued on Saturday. Goaded Joe Thornton into matching minors. The Avs will take that trade off. A great game by Cody.
3- Erik Johnson - He is Mr. Everything to the Avs D. Set up the game winning goal on the power play and ate up minutes against the large, skilled Sharks. He was everywhere in this game and was terrific late in helping the Avs seal the game.
1- I thought Nate Guenin was pretty good today. We all know his limitations with the puck but he was solid enough.
2- Mitchell's versatility is a key to this team. He is the Swiss army knife for the Avs right now.
3- The Sharks controlled most of play again in this game. They are going to be a force in the playoffs for whoever has to play them.
4- Glad to see Pepsi Center filled up, loud, and mostly free of foreign fans. Let's keep the Hawks fans out of there come playoff time.
5- Patrick looked very springy today with his shirt-tie combo.
6- If Dan Boyle gets to UFA this summer the Avs should go after him hard. The Sharks have been rumored to only want to give him a one year deal. If I were the Avs I would give him 2 years at good money and see if he bites. He would be a great mentor to Barrie and the younger D while providing an upgrade to what they have now and can improve the power play.
7- Landeskog is cooking right now. Like the Swedish Chef.
8- The Avs won the special teams battle today with a power play goal and a short handed goal. Games in the NHL are so close that if you can be in the positive on special teams you will have a good chance to win the game. Obviously things tighten up in the playoffs so it is tougher to be successful like this in the playoffs. The Avs will need to improve their 5 on 5 play against elite teams like the Sharks but that is a worry for another time. For now, bask in the playoff glory!