The Anaheim Ducks had earned points in fourteen straight games, vaulting them to 1st Place in the Pacific Division standings. Tonight, the Avalanche handed them their first regulation loss since February 8th in a decisive 3-0 victory, once again placing them in sole possession of the final Wild Card spot.
The first ten minutes of the 1st Period was mostly back-and-forth play featuring no scoring, but matching Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalties on Corey Perry and Cody McLeod opened up the ice for two minutes of 4-on-4 play. With about 40 seconds left in the penalty, Erik Johnson wound up with the puck at mid-ice, saw Nathan MacKinnon streaking of ice, and tossed up what he described in his post-game remarks as a "lob wedge" into Anaheim's zone. The puck sat down as soft as a Pro-V1 after a deluge, and MacKinnon beat Ducks' goalie John Gibson for the first score of the game, his 21st goal on the season (Video).
The Avs would strike again in the 2nd Period when Andreas Martinsen, getting the nod over Jack Skille, out-muscled Ryan Getzlaf for the puck on the boards, passed the puck up to Matt Duchene, and buried the return pass on a smooth backhand with just 2:41 left in the middle frame (Video). It was Martinsen's third goal on the season and his first since December 12th.
But Colorado wasn't done. With just 29 seconds, Nick Holden caught the puck at the blue line and fired a pass down low to Carl Soderberg, who was posted below the net. He quickly jammed the puck back out in front and Shawn Matthias, always around the net, shot it top-shelf to put the Avs up 3-0.
Matthias would appear to score again in the 3rd Period when he caught a long Eric Gelinas pass from the Avalanche zone near the Ducks' blue line. He subsequently drove to the net and scored, but the play was waived off for being offside. Replays showed this was the incorrect call, but because the referee had blown the whistle during the sequence, it could not be challenged.
Fortunately it wouldn't matter, as goalie Semyon Varlamov had zero intention of letting any pucks behind him. The Avs' starter stopped 37-of-37 shots en route to his second shutout of the season, providing further evidence of bouncing back from his two horrendous starts the week prior.
Colorado would go on to win 3-0. Their next game will be at Winnipeg against the Jets on Saturday.
- Shawn Matthias - New guy is starting to fit in pretty well. Netted his third goal tonight and nearly a fourth on a blown offside call. The Avs are seeing the kind of a player on their 3rd Line that scored 18 goals last season in Vancouver. Not to mention he was one-half of one of the best penalty kills I've seen all year.
- Andreas Martinsen - The big Norwegian got a spot start on the 4th Line in place of a Jack Skille tonight and made the most of it. Great defensive play along the boards and a nice hustle down the ice led to a crucial second goal. When the Lord of Fjorcheck is playing with a fervor, he's a nice contributor to the team's bottom lines. It was good to see him get back on track.
- Semyon Varlamov - Oh, that? Just a little 37-save shutout. No big deal. I'm not sure what happened between last week's struggles and this week's dominance (coaching, rest, voodoo?), but this is the level of play the Avs are going to need in order to make a playoff push the final thirteen games.
- Landeskog's High Hit - The Avalanche captain is playing about as well as you can ask right now but he threw a hit in the 3rd Period that could very well earn him another NHL suspension for contact to the head. He didn't cause injury to Simon Depres and he didn't draw a penalty on the play, but with the history of his Brad Marchand hit being considered, he may be forced to sit a couple of games again. This would be a big blow to his team.
- Too-Quick Offside Whistles - Not the first time I've mentioned this, but when the NHL instituted coach's challenges for borderline offside calls, the referees need to err on the side of the offensive play in real-time. Why? Because if you get it wrong by blowing the whistle, like they did tonight, you give the defense an advantage that can't be reversed. Once again, fans pay money to watch hockey plays, not watch men in striped shirts blow them dead. If you have to erase a Shawn Matthias breakaway goal after a replay, fine, but don't deny that play in real-time. You want to increase league-wide scoring? Start there.