This week was fantastic and tonight was awesome. The hype for this game lived up to the high standards and we got some terrific hockey out of it. Coors Field was a fantastic host for the franchise's first ever outdoor game, and it deserved a positive finish. Hockey is a cruel game though, and we didn't get it. Detroit scored a game-winner with a minute remaining when extra innings at the baseball field looked likely.
It was hard to not be inspired by the scene we all saw. Every seat at Coors Field taken, a beautiful Denver sunset, and the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings ready to play professional hockey outdoors for the first time in Avalanche history. Unfortunately though, the winged wheel got on the board first. Tomas Tatar was able to poke away at a rebound after it looked like Gustav Nyquist was going to get one past Semyon Varlamov. It was a valiant effort by Varly, but ultimately Detroit was going to find a way to get a goal in here.
Their early lead was short-lived, however. Nathan MacKinnon got a two on one opportunity and wristed a laser beam past Petr Mrazek. One of MacKinnon's best goals scored in his now third year with the Avalanche. It looked like something out of the Joe Sakic highlight reel. In fact, it looked like the goal Super Joe scored in the alumni game last night. Gabriel Landeskog was credited with an assist on Mack's twentieth goal this season. Colorado built on its lead with a beautiful play from Tyson Barrie. Blake Comeau hooked him up with a sweet pass, and a flying Barrie dangled on the Detroit net minder, and fired a shot into the top shelf of the cage making the score two to one in favor of the Avalanche.
Andrew Bodnarchuk and Cody McLeod took penalties for the Avalanche that were both killed off. Gabe Landeskog and Pavel Datsyuk got into a scrap that sent both team leaders to the box and bringing about some four on four hockey.
Scoreless! I regret to inform you all that as a South Carolina resident, where the democratic primary took place today, NBC decided to cover Bernie Sanders' losing speech on half of my television screen, where they took the audio as well. The one chance we get to hear the legendary Doc Emrick call an Avalanche game and the audio of his beautiful voice was taken away. Blasphemy!
I don't think much happened here from what I could tell. Some penalties on both sides, some chances for each team, but otherwise, it was just another period.
The Red Wings were able to tie it up early on with a seemingly innocent backhander from Gustav Nyquist. Varlamov was crouched down anticipating a shot from the forehand, but perhaps not the backhand, and the puck sailed over Varly's left shoulder into the twine, knotting the game at two.
Your questions of why there are four innings instead of the usual three in a hockey game are warranted. High winds in Denver made the zebras determine it was fair to switch sides midway through the period so there would be no advantage either way. It was evident it was very gusty as the fake snow that had been placed on the infield of Coors Field was blowing away and making it appear as though there was a cotton tornado rampaging through the stadium.
When the game resumed, the Red Wings regained the lead when Justin Abdelkaker somehow tucked the puck in between Varly and the left post. Darren Helm and Luke Glendening assisted. Just seconds later though, coming back in time was Alex Tanguay, who I thought should have been playing in the alumni game and not the main event. Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon helped make it happen.
With a minute left in the game, however, heartbreak set in across Coors Field when Brad Richards got one to sky over Varlamov and fall lazily into the goal mouth. A lucky break for the Red Wings, but they count at the end of the day. Kronwall assisted on this game-winner. To put any hope an Avalanche comeback away, Darren Helm shot in empty-netter, which was irritatingly assisted by the goaltender Mrazek and Niklas Kronwall.
Mr. Fish's Three Sardines:
#3: Tyson Barrie: Barrie was able to show the world on a national stage why he's so valuable to the Avalanche. Usually when he's a sardine, the Avs win. Shame that wasn't the case tonight.
#2: Gabe Landeskog: Captain Gabe came up big tonight. He showed leadership with his physicality and his play. He proved his worth to the club tonight.
#1: Nathan MacKinnon: Mack was awesome tonight, with a goal and an assist. His goal was beautiful and he and Landy did a great job making Tanguay's goal happen. He had maybe his best game of the season, either this one or his hat trick at San Jose in December.
Mr. Fish's Three Flounders:
#3: Erik Johnson: I could go with a lot of guys here. EJ, Grigs, Bodnarchuk, Holden, Mitchell, and I might be forgetting somebody. Johnson just hasn't looked himself ever since he came back from injury. His minutes as a number one d-man have to be questioned right now.
#2: Cody McLeod: Take the damn alternate captain mark off his jersey. His double minor penalty in the first after the Avs gained the lead was hopelessly dumb, and he did nothing to provide any on-ice help.
#1: Semyon Varlamov: Varly is a great asset for Colorado, but he let in some really soft goals tonight. Maybe it was the outdoor ice, the lighting, sight lines, or whatever, but I feel like he's the ultimate reason Colorado lost tonight.
As I said above, this whole week leading up to this was fantastic. The Avalanche and the city of Denver got a lot of great national exposure for what was two great hockey games, counting Friday night's Alumni Game as well. I really hope we don't look at this week as a failure because of this finish. Yes, it's disappointing, but the Avalanche still have a spot in the playoffs as we speak. A win in St. Paul over the Wild on Tuesday will make this loss easier to swallow. A loss in three nights, and tonight will hurt even more.
Let's just hope the city of Denver and the Avalanche get another outdoor game one day, which I think was proved to be deserved with how this week unfolded. Until then, this will be a stinging way to end an otherwise magnificent event.