Coming into this game, all the usual media channels were saying it was a big one for the Avalanche. If they won, they could leapfrog the Dallas Stars in the standings. Of course, that means it's a big game for the Stars, too. Also of note is that the Stars players had their fathers on their road trip with them to give the team dads a peek into life in the NHL. Nobody wants to lose in front of their dad, right?
Aside from a couple twitches of life from the Avalanche, the first period belonged entirely to the Stars. Just twenty-seven seconds into the game, Tyler Seguin worked some of his characteristic magic and fired a shot toward Varlamov that Brett Ritchie managed to tip in. Alex Tanguay looked like he was caught a little flat-footed on that goal and he looked a lot livelier for the rest of the period.
Stars up 1-0 on Ritchie tip-in:
Two consecutive power plays weren't enough for the Avs to generate any offense either. Antoine Roussel went to the box for slashing. The Avalanche power play failed to generate even a single shot on goal. Of note was that Matt Duchene was completely absent from both power play units. When Duchene finally took the ice for the first time, he drew a penalty from Jason Demers almost immediately.
During Demers' penalty, the Avalanche went another two minutes without a shot. The Stars' penalty kill isn't exactly phenomenal. As of the start of this game, they were ranked 20th in the NHL. But they killed off both those penalties without much hassle and made the second look particularly effortless.
A familiar sequence of events played out for the next few minutes: the Avalanche went through long stretches of struggling to get the puck out of their zone punctuated by only occasional shots at Kari Lehtonen.
On one attempt to clear the puck to neutral ice, Marc-Andre Cliche turned the puck right over to Dallas, which led a few seconds later to a nifty, slick little pass from Vernon Fiddler to Colton Sceviour. Sceviour nipped the puck in past Varlamov backhand and put the Stars up 2-0.
Stars go up by 2 courtesy of Fiddler to Sceviour:
Neither team looked particularly flashy as the period wound down. Alex Tanguay and John Mitchell both got decent looks at the net at the 17:20 mark, but Tanguay hesitated just a bit too long to shoot and Mitchell couldn't quite slam the rebound home.
The period finished 2-0 Dallas. Of note, each team had single digit shot attempts, with Dallas having the slight edge at 8-7.
The Avalanche must have taken a good hard look at themselves during intermission, because they owned the second. They didn't quite come out roaring though, as Borna Rendulic was sent to the penalty box only 4 seconds into the period.
The PK allowed three shots but looked pretty decent.
Once the penalty wound down, we discovered that the MacKinnon-Duchene-Landeskog line was finally reunited. They got a GREAT chance on a rebound but Lehtonen positioned himself well and Duchene couldn't bury the rebound. Not long after, Lehtonen made a fantastic glove save on Max Talbot, who looked a little put out. Can't blame him. The Talbot scoring chance came off a promising passing sequence from Tyson Barrie to Nathan MacKinnon.
Lehtonen continued to draw the spotlight when he came right out to play the puck at the fifteen minute mark, preventing a race to the puck which may have given Talbot a breakaway. Then a couple minutes later, Lehtonen denied Duchene again.
After his initial shot was blocked, Duchene dove behind the net, battling for possession and coming away with the puck. His hard work led directly to this wicked backhand goal from none other than Majestic Condor Erik Johnson.
Erik Johnson scores backhand on Lehtonen, 2-1 Stars:
Breaking open the goose egg seemed to wake the Avalanche up yet further, because they proceeded to put sustained pressure on the Stars, taking the lead in shots for the first time in the game.
The line of Talbot-Mitchell-MacKinnon had a phenomenal, physical shift. They played the body, won battles along the boards, and Mitchell looked a little Dustin Byfuglien-esque out there before he took a long wrister from the blue line that rocketed into the back of the net.
Avalanche tie it up! Mitchell shot maybe tipped in, 2-2:
Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay continued the physical trend, covering their men well. Guenin also had a couple defensively solid shifts. The Stars took a few shots at Varlamov, but he handled them well.
At just shy of eight minutes remaining, Erik Johnson majestically deflected the puck out of play and the Stars went on the man advantage.
During the Stars' PP, Antoine Roussel nailed Cody McLeod along the boards and McLeod was not happy about it. They scrambled a bit, but McLeod was called for covering the puck with his glove. He probably would have ended up in the box for roughing anyhow given the way things were going, so the Avalanche got to enjoy 30 seconds of defending a 5-on-3.
The Avs defended both penalties successfully, playing close to the net and blocking/deflecting a lot of pucks.
Alex Goligoski went to the box shortly thereafter and the Avalanche's power play looked much better. Lehtonen had to make a good save on Mitchell. Matt Duchene was like a hungry hungry hippo going after the puck, but they couldn't quite get it done.
In the last minute of the period, the Avs looked fast. The Stars chased them well though and Jason Spezza got a good chance, but the shot got blocked in a tangle of feet.
As the final seconds wound down, Talbot intercepted a pass and stole the puck away and raced into the offensive zone with linemate MacKinnon. He dished the puck to MacKinnon who tucked it between Lehtonen's left pad and the post. Ref on the ice called it a goal.
BUT WAS IT? YOU DECIDE.
The play was under review long enough that I was worried Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla would retire before we got the verdict. In the end, the review was inconclusive, so the good goal call on the ice stood.
The Avs closed out the period with their first lead of the game, 3-2.
The third period opened with a bang. Matt Duchene rose from the depths like a long-slumbering kraken and scored a beauty of a goal. Off a dish from Borna Rendulić, Duchene snuck back behind the net and spun away in a Forsberg-esque move. He rifled the puck up high, beating Lehtonen top shelf.
Duchene puts Avs up 4-2 up high:
Also of note was Duchene sliding around on his back like a turtle after the goal, but I am not sure he planned that. Here's a gif courtesy of the always-wonderful @MyRegularFace on Twitter:
The Stars however were quick to answer. You have to admit this setup by former Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff and Jason Spezza was a thing of beauty. Ales Hemsky sealed the deal and put the Stars back within one.
Nifty puck movement brings Stars within 1, score 4-3:
The third period really heated up as the Avs worked to defend their lead. Both Lehtonen and Varlamov had to make some saves, with Varlamov making a particularly remarkable one at the sixteen minute mark. Then the puck flew up the opposite end and Lehtonen denied Tanguay on a 2-on-1.
Not long after, Landeskog took an awkward, avoidable high sticking penalty, but the Avalanche's penalty kill came to play today. Or perhaps the Stars' power play just wasn't particularly effective.
Ryan O'Reilly and Alex Tanguay really stood out on the PK, and then each of them got a mini breakaway, though O'Reilly's was poke-checked away and Tanguay shot wide.
Kudos to Duchene and Brad Stuart for their stickwork and blocking as the period wound down. Both prevented almost sure goals when Duchene got his stick in the way of a shot and Stuart blocked a wraparound on his knee. That's the sort of hustle that helps you maintain a lead, something the Avalanche have really struggled with this year.
At seven minutes remaining, Erik Johnson majestically deflected the puck out of play again and spent two more minutes in the box, padding the numbers of fantasy hockey teams everywhere. The Avalanche's penalty kill looked great. They smothered the Stars on zone entry and the only time their zone penetration looked dangerous, they got caught offsides.
The Avalanche caught a lucky break when Dallas' Cody Eakin fanned on a shot right in front of Varlamov at the two minute mark.
The seconds ticked away. Landeskog and Jan Hejda played tough, hard hockey along the boards, delivering big hits to Dallas' Brett Ritchie.
At 1:16 remaining, Lehtonen skated to the bench and the Stars brought out the extra attacker. In the end, it was a minute and a quarter of scrambly, awkward hockey along the boards peppered with shots fired toward Varlamov and fifteen seconds of Brad Stuart sitting on the puck like he was trying to hatch a baby dragon.
Alex Tanguay went to the box for the final 18 seconds of the game, but missed connection passes and pressure by the Avalanche prevented the Stars from tying things up.
The Avalanche won, final score 4-3. As of now, Brad Stuart has yet to hatch a dragon.
MHH Three Stars
1. Matt Duchene: Matt's back, baby. He had 1G and 1A, but far more importantly, he threw himself into this game heart, soul, and body. He hounded the puck and was directly responsible for EJ's goal.
2. Maxime Talbot: Some might argue he deserves the #3 spot, but Talbot was all over the ice and his intercepts and pick-offs helped the team just as much as his assist.
3. Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O'Reilly share the honours. MacKinnon broke his goal drought and O'Reilly created a lot of chaos even if he didn't find the scoresheet. O'Reilly also stood out for his work on the PK.
- Nate Guenin has a two-game point streak and played pretty solid today. #DontHateNate
- Congratulations to Borna Rendulić on his first NHL assist!
- Although he didn't find the back of the net, Trevor Daley had a tremendous game for the Stars. He was everywhere.
- Jan Hejda let the Avs in ice time this game, with 21:55.
- The above is what happens when you put the Condor in the box.
The Avalanche head to the nation's Capital which houses the Capitol Building to take on the Washington Capitals. Always struck me as strange that the building is spelled differently to the town. Anyone else?
Oh wait, this recap isn't finished yet.
The game airs at 5:00PM on Altitude TV.