Before we get into the meat of this season finale I want to extend a thank you to everyone who clicks, reads, comments, and contributes to Mile High Hockey. You guys make this a very special place and regardless of the result on ice you make MHH a great place to be all season. We'll do our best to cure your July and August doldrums with some great content this summer.
Patrick Roy started this game off with a small, but important gesture to one of his players, starting Daniel Briere in honor of what may be his final NHL game. Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks benched a smattering of talented players (Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Kimmo Timmonen, and Brad Richards) in preparation for their playoff run. The game started somewhat tentatively for both teams. Without their top players the Blackhawks didn't punish the Avalanche with the barrage of shifts we've come to expect from them and the Avalanche didn't push great offensive possession because they are the Avalanche and the've struggled with controlling possession for years.
Despite some ho-hum neutral zone play, the Avalanche would strike first when Joey Hishon picked Kris Versteeg's pocket in the offensive zone and dished the puck to Tyson Barrie on the half boards. Barrie skated down low while Hishon headed for the front of the net, then Barrie made a nice fake and bank-shotted the puck off Cody McLeod and into the Blackhawks net. That goal was all Barrie, so much so that McLeod had no idea the puck hit him until after it was in the net. Avalanche 1 - Blackhawks 0
Just over halfway through the period, Daniel Briere made an incredible move to cut across the net left to right and shoot for the roof. Scott Darling made an excellent save to deny the Avalanche veteran and the Blackhawks got a whistle as the Avs played the puck with a high stick. On the next shift from Briere's line, Freddie Hamilton had a great opportunity on the doorstep, but Scott Darling made another nice save. The rest of the period saw very little from the Avalanche and a lot of stretch passes and near breakaways for the Blackhawks. Varlamov made some very impressive saves to keep the Avalanche in it. His best save came against Marian Hossa with the toe.
GIF: Varlamov saves on Hossa pic.twitter.com/MJcTcmQUmP
— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 12, 2015
The second period started off similarly sluggish. The first great chance of the period came 5:00 into the frame when the Blackhawks fired a puck through a screen towards Varlamov and were unable to collect the rebound free in the crease. After a whistle, Kris Versteeg smoked a wrist-shot past Semyon Varlamov and off the post. Varlamov was screened again and didn't know the puck had been shot until it dinged off the post behind him. After those chances the Blackhawks slowly started to tip the ice back in their favor. With 12:00 to play Brian Bickell saw the Avalanche caught back with one defenseman (Nate Guenin) and one forward (Freddie Hamilton) and made a nice play to attack the blue line. Bickell drove down the left side and drew the attention of both Colorado defenders before dropping the puck behind for Patrick Sharp and driving the net for a screen. The combination of Bickell and Guenin blocked Varlamov's view and Sharp fired a perfect shot to the top shelf on the far side, beating Varlamov with the glove. 1-1
The Hawks began to dominate the play after tying the game midway through the second. Two minutes later Kris Versteeg made a great cross ice pass to set Marian Hossa up for a wide open net, but Jan Hejda was quick to step in and break up the shot attempt with a poke check.
In the late part of the period the Avalanche finally created some sustained possession in the Blackhawks zone. They capped off a good shift in the offensive zone by driving the net from the left side goal line. When the puck squirted free towards the point, Nick Holden stepped in and hammered a slapshot at goaltender Scott Darling's chest. In the ensuing chaos and Avalanche cycle, the Avs drew the first penalty of the night and headed to the power play.
On the ensuing power play faceoff Joey Hishon and Joakim Nordstrom got caught up fighting for the loose puck. Nordstrom gained possession of the puck, but Joey Hishon lowered his shoulder and checked the Hawks forward, separating him from the puck and keeping the Avalanche in the offensive zone. From there the puck cycled back to Matt Duchene and then Zach Redmond. Redmond dished the puck across to Jarome Iginla who cranked a slapshot on net where Joey Hishon was placing an extremely effective screen for someone of his small size. At first the puck looked like it deflected off Joey Hishon's stick and past Darling, but on further review, the change in direction was due to contact with Darling's glove. Iginla scores his 28th of the year and puts the Avalanche up 2-1.
After the Avalanche goal the Blackhawks dominated the final 5:00 of the frame. Marian Hossa had another golden opportunity on a one-timer in the right faceoff circle, but Semyon Varlamov slid across the crease and deflected the puck away with his glove arm. In the chaos of the rebound Kris Versteeg accidentally ran over Varlamov from behind. The Avalanche goaltender popped back up and into his crease immediately, but newcomer Duncan Siemens was not pleased with the extra contact and had a friendly conversation with Mr. Versteeg. The Hawks outshot the Avalanche 14-8 in the 2nd period and lead the Avalanche 20-15 over the first 40 minutes.
The Avalanche had their strongest start to a period in the third with a good shift from the unusually quiet O`Reilly, Landeskog and Tanguay line. Landeskog had a good chance on the short side, but Darling was extremely aggressive on the angle and forced the puck out into the corner. When they left the ice, there was a scary moment for the Avalanche and Andrew Shaw. After a neutral zone turnover Shaw and another Hawks forward raced down the ice on a 2-on-1 against Zach Redmond. Redmond dropped to the ice near his own net to stop the pass across and prevented Shaw from making a play, but after the puck was gone, Shaw tried to jump over the sprawling Redmond while Redmond was standing back up. Shaw tripped over the Avs defender and went head and shoulder first into the end boards. Shaw was slow to get up but went to the bench under his own power and appeared ok.
A bit later Siemens had the first major flub of his NHL career, losing his man in the defensive zone. Lucky for Siemens, Varlamov made a strong first save and Hishon was relentless on the back-check to pick up the rebound and clear the puck out of the zone himself.
The Hawks began to push the pace of the game again but didn't establish the same dominance they had at other points in the game. At one point the Avalanche turned over the puck in the neutral zone and sent Shaw and the rest of the Hawks back the other way with speed. Joey Hishon made an outstanding pokecheck to steal the puck from Shaw and head the other way, creating a potential 2-on-1 with Marc Andre Cliche. Hishon passed across to Cliche, who fumbled the puck away and killed the opportunity. A few shifts later Duncan Siemens was beaten on the right side and lost his stick in the process. Tyson Barrie skated hard to recover for Siemens and disrupt the play with his stick. The Hawks still got a got a good chance but Varlamov swallowed up the shot. Despite everyone standing calmly around the net after the whistle, Cody McLeod skated in and punched Andrew Shaw in the face. McLeod earned a 2:00 roughing penalty to set a new personal high in the completely meaningful and important statistic of penalty minutes. Shaw also took a roughing penalty with his reaction, sending the teams to 4-on-4.
After the 4-on-4 opportunity expired without incident Hishon had another monstrous shift in the offensive zone, missing an opportunity on the right side of the net then setting up Cliche for a one-timer in the slot while Scott Darling was laying down and out on the edge of the crease. Cliche flubbed the shot.
With just 4:40 left in the game the Blackhawks rushed down the ice on a 2-on-2 opportunity. Duncan Siemens failed to maintain his gap with Brandon Saad and the Hawks young power forward was able to get behind Duncan Siemens and crash the Avalanche net. Marian Hossa skated down the left side and fed the puck ahead for Saad, now alone in front. Saad deflected the puck into Varlamov and it squeaked through his pads and into the back of the net. Siemens and Saad knocked the net off it's moorings on the play, but the puck had already crossed the line. 2-2.
Just when the Avalanche looked like they were headed to overtime in their final game, Marcus Kruger tripped Ryan O`Reilly in the offensive zone and gave the Avalanche a power play. With 30 seconds remaining in the game and a power play on the scoreboard Gabriel Landeskog passed to Alex Tanguay at the blueline. Tanguay dished the puck further along to Jarome Iginla and the future hall of famer did what he's done so many times in his career, and stepped up towards the net with a goal on his stick. Iginla looked off a pass and snapped a hard wristshot past Darling to give the Avalanche a lead with under a minute to play.
With the net empty Matt Duchene had the puck on the left wing with an easy chance to score the empty netter. Duchene made the selfless move and tried to center the puck for Iginla. An empty netter at the end would have given Iginla the hat trick and another 30 goal season for his storied career. Unfortunately the puck deflected off John Mitchell's skate and the Avalanche weren't able to score on the empty net.
The Avalanche win in regulation, finishing their 2014-2015 campaign with 90 points. The Avs will pick 1st, 10th or 11th in the NHL Entry Draft this June. There are lots of questions for the Avalanche to answer between now and then: Will the Avalanche win the draft lottery? Will Ryan O`Reilly be back? Will the Avalanche do anything to improve their defense?
MHH Three Stars of the Game:
1A. Daniel Briere - If this is in fact the end, then Daniel Briere finishes his career with 307 goals and 696 points in 972 career games. Things probably didn't go how Briere wanted here in Colorado, but either way thanks for stopping through Danny B.
1B. Jarome Iginla - 2 goals and the game winner. The Avs' leading goal scorer nearly snagged the hat trick and his 30th of the year.
2. Semyon Varlamov - What is there to say? The Avs MVP was MVP again stopping a number of ridiculous chances and keeping the Avs in another game where they were outshot
3. Joey Hishon - Completely changed the complexion of the Avs bottom six and was the catalyst for two of the Avs' goals tonight, even if he only gets a point on one.