The Avalanche played, perhaps, their best game of the season tonight, nearly doubling up the first-place Chicago Blackhawks in shots and overcoming a three-goal second period deficit win 4-3 in overtime.
If you tuned in for the opening puck drop, you might have been scratching your head wondering who in the world was wearing the Burgundy & Blue jerseys at the Pepsi Center. These imposters managed 16 shots-on-goal in the first period to the Blackhawks three. The five-on-five attempts were just about as ugly, with the Avalanche firing 22 times at the net to their opponent’s mere six. It was one of the more dominating periods of hockey they’ve played all season. Enough to make you question who they snuck into the locker room to dress tonight. That is until you realize they scored precisely zero goals after all that effort, which is very Avalanche-like.
The early half of the second period likely confirmed a lot of suspicions: Yes, despite what I saw for the first 20 minutes, this team is, indeed, the Avalanche. After Rene Bourque got caught slashing Marcus Kruger at the tail-end of the first, the Blackhawks would find the net just 28 seconds into the middle frame on the man-advantage. After an awkward scramble along the boards, the puck squirted out to Patrick Kane, who found Artemi Panarin wide open across the way for an easy goal.
The Hawks would score again a few minutes later following a magnificent Nathan MacKinnon play to skate through Chicago’s defense and rip a shot at goalie Scott Darling. His pad save send the puck back the other way in a hurry, with only Duncan Siemens and Cody Goloubef back to defend the rush opportunity. When Siemens challenged the puck, ‘Beef opted to defend a non-existent crossing pass instead of closing on Ryan Hartman and Calvin Pickard would let in a soft backhand five-hole to put the Avs in an early 2-0 deficit.
Then Francois Beauchemin pulled his nightly why-are-you-still-starting move, falling asleep on Marcus Kruger, who ran a post route up the middle and caught a slick up-ice pass from Michal Roszival. Pickard stood no chance, biting on the second move and watching the puck sail past him on the third.
Clearly at this point the playing-better-hockey-than-the-other-team strategy wasn’t working, so Colorado opted for a different strategy: score short-handed!
The first of these plays occurred subsequent to a Beauchemin hooking penalty. Matt Nieto came away with the puck and skated into Chicago’s zone two-on-one with Matt Duchene. The defender laid out to defend the cross pass and Nieto placed a picture-perfect saucer pass over his stick to Duchene, who blasted home a one-timer for his 18th goal of the season. Number two occurred while Nathan MacKinnon was in the box for roughing. Gabriel Landeskog stole a neutral-ice drop pass and willed himself through the defense toward the Blackhawks’ net, firing off a shot and missing, but immediately retrieved the rebound, circled the net and buried his 17th of the year to cut Chicago’s lead to one.
Matt Duchene would strike again in the third after Mark Barberio made a great play to bat the puck out of the air along the boards to maintain possession. Duchene then drew his defender in, executed his signature spin move and zipped a backhand pass in front of the net in one fluid motion. Mikhail Grigorenko was in the process of crashing the net and was able to angle his stick to direct the puck past Darling to tie the game three-all.
Neither team would score again until the overtime period, when Erik Johnson collected the puck in his own zone, slipped on his power ring and transformed into a majestic condor. Each Blackhawk on the ice stared in wonder as he skated past their seemingly stationary bodies, deking the last one before rifling a shot past Darling for the game winner. It was...extraordinary. One of the more satisfying results of the season in just about every way.
The Avalanche moved to 22-54-3, which is still last place. But boy, they didn’t look like it tonight, eventually outshooting Chicago 51-27 (61-39 5v5 attempts). With all these young guys getting chances, the team suddenly doesn’t look awful. Who woulda thought?