Nothing can stop the Colorado Avalanche at this point as they scoop up another victory as they defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-3 for their eighth straight, equaling the longest franchise winning streak since 2005-2006. The Avalanche also end the evening holding a wild card spot as they keep fighting a tough western conference for playoff position.
The Avalanche got out to a hot start in the first period with goals from Nathan MacKinnon just one minute apart at 7:03 and 8:01. The fist goal was an incredible individual effort to shoot through Marc-Edouard Vlasic's legs and fool goaltender Martin Jones. The second was just a blazing shot on the power play, which also gave Sam Girard another point. That's seven points in eight games games for those scoring at home.
Carl Soderberg would add another tally at 18:14 from another hard working shift from the line with Matt Nieto and Blake Comeau, which is becoming a signature of theirs. Nieto gave Soderberg an incredible feed in front of the net and the Avalanche at 3-0 were rolling through the stunned Sharks at that point.
That train would keep momentum even after a break for the first intermission as to kick off the second period Mikko Rantanen would score what could be considered a "junk" goal off of a blast from Mark Barberio at 1:34.
The Sharks finally got on the board at 9:44 when Timo Meier converted just after a power play had expired. Then in the third period the Sharks would score two quick goals at 29 seconds in and 4:53 and turn the game in to a much more interesting affair.
The Avalanche would kill two more power plays in the slowest moving third period of all time before the former Shark himself, Matt Nieto would score one of the biggest momentum shifters of the season at 16:46, which would finally give the Avs a two-goal cushion again and enough breathing room to finish off the game. However, not before killing off yet another penalty, which would be seven in total on the night. After an exhausting sixty minutes of hockey the Avalanche prevail and the win streak lives on.
There were many heroes on this night from MacKinnon's two goal performance, Rantanen's three points, Nieto's clutch scoring, the penalty kill who successfully neutralized seven man advantages but Jonathan Bernier was the absolute difference maker for the team making 45 saves and many spectacular efforts were in the third period. Bernier really has utilized his opportunity with Semyon Varlamov on the mend and even raising questions if he should be the starter for the rest of the season and perhaps into the future.
Now is a time to just sit back and enjoy that the Avalanche are not only fun to watch and inspire hope for the future with the way this team has come together in the last couple of months. Momentum really started before the eight game win streak when the team started finding confidence and bounced back after some tough times like their 7-0 loss to Vegas in October and poor homestand in early December. Although the conference has been tough to hold even the second wild card spot through this streak, it really feels as if this team realistically can make the playoffs.
That all said, the big picture can't get lost in the short term excitement. It's still a process and building takes several stages, resources and most of all time. The Avalanche experienced similar type "fresh start" surges after bottoming out in 2009, 2011 and 2013. There's nothing wrong with riding the wave but the plan should remain the same and always in sight.
The Avalanche close out their homestand and go for their ninth win in a row against the New York Rangers at 1pm on Saturday, January 20th.