If you're on the Colorado Avalanche and your name isn't Matt Duchene, then you had five full days off between hockey games before tonight, and it showed from the first puck drop. The lines looked uneven, pucks looked magnetically opposed to tape, and the Avalanche did that thing again where they gave up a ton of shot to a first-rate team. Maybe that's an excuse if Blackhawks didn't just have the same amount of time off, but the veteran team figured out how to play really good hockey -- even without their captain, Jonathan Toews, who was suspended for missing this past weekend's All-Star Game.
The one guy who did show up tonight was Calvin Pickard, who is likely getting his last regular start in net after Semyon Varlamov's trial verdict today. However, he didn't quite get his feet underneath him from the get-go either. After getting pinned in their zone, not unlike most of the evening, Viktor Svedberg shot the puck from the blue line and it ricocheted behind the net to Andrew Shaw. He then sent it back out front of the net and Richard Panik buried a shot I'm positive Pickard would like back to open the scoring 1-0 (Video). Less than five minutes later, Chicago would strike again after Patrick Kane squeezed a fortunate backhand pass along the boards past Francois Beauchemin to Artemi Panarin. He then put a slick move on Erik Johnson and shot a backhand of his own past Pickard to make it 2-0 (Video).
The Avalanche, already being well outshot, wouldn't back down, though. Pickard would buckle down and Gabriel Landeskog brought the game back within one goal on a glove-hand snipe past Corey Crawford (Video). Blake Comeau and Erik Johnson would pick up assists on the play, and Landeskog would net his fourth goal in as many games. The captain appears to be getting healthier as his scoring touch returns.
The 1st Period would end with the Blackhawks outshooting the Avs 14-6 (28-9 CF 5v5), but Colorado would remain plenty hopeful only down one goal with two periods left to turn it around. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Corey Crawford would stop a number of dangerous scoring opportunities, including numerous mad scrambles in front of the net. Calvin Pickard would be just as good the remaining 40 minutes, stopping all of Chicago's 28 shots on goal. Power play opportunities, 2-plus minutes of empty net shots -- nothing worked. Crawford was too good and his teammates kept the Avs busy on the other end for WAY too much of the evening. The final buzzer would sound with the Blackhawks up 2-1.
- Corey Crawford - Not a lot of action tonight, but he stood his ground when he needed to. He's gotten some grief over the years for being "along for the ride," but he's had a fantastic season and really deserved recognition in the All-Star game (if not for weird format rules).
- Artemi Panarin - Scored what would be the game's deciding goal on a great move to the slot. Didn't get off a great shot, but it worked. See how that works, Avs? You shoot and it might possibly go in? Tough concept, I know.
Gabriel Landeskog - The Captain has roared back in recent weeks. Whatever health problems he was enduring (his back and whatever else) seem to have subsided recently. I haven't called for a lot of line swaps recently, but I'd love to see him back on the mythical "Nine-Line" for a stretch again. Right now Carl Soderberg is playing great with everybody. Let's mitigate some "underperforming players" by getting the top guys out there 19-20 minutes per game.
- Linesmen - Tonight was an abysmal night for whomever was blowing every third rush offsides -- for Chicago too, but especially the Avalanche. Instant replay (and by that, I mean my DVR -- thanks Altitude Network!) showed at least four of these calls to be completely bogus and it cost Colorado numerous scoring chances. Listen, they have the challenge now. If the play is really close to offside and a team scores, let the opposing coach call for the replay. Otherwise, let these impossible-to-judge-in-real-time calls go for the sake of fluid entertainment. No one wants to see play stoppage there. This has to end.
- Jarome Iginla - Duchene and MacKinnon had their worst possession game in ages and I think it's no coincidence Iginla was on their line tonight. No clue what you do at this point. He simply isn't good enough to play more than sparing o-zone faceoffs anymore. Tanguay has been bad there, but not this bad. This has to change.
Erik Johnson - We're all tempering expectations since he came off injured reserve -- knee injuries take time. However, I don't see why Roy needs to play top-pairing minutes against the toughest competition while he's still getting into game shape. Right now, he looks like a downgrade from Zadorov there and that's not good. Time to step it up.