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Avalanche rally but can’t finish in overtime loss to Blackhawks

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The Chicago Blackhawks struck both first and last in a tightly-fought 2-1 overtime loss for Colorado

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Down the final stretch of the season, every game is crucial for the Colorado Avalanche - particularly against their own division, where even points against the non-playoff teams could be important.

Despite this, the Avalanche couldn’t manage to get it done against an incredibly lacklustre Blackhawks roster on Tuesday night, dropping their second potential point when they lost on an overtime goal by Jonathan Toews just nine seconds into extra minutes.

THE RUNDOWN

The Blackhawks have been one of the league’s biggest surprises this season.

Although everyone expected them to take a slight step back, they absolutely flew off the rails when Vezina-worthy starting goaltender Corey Crawford was placed on injured reserve in December. They bled shots - and high quality ones at that - in front of an inexperienced rotation of goaltenders, and their offensive stars looked to be a step behind game after game.

Despite this, they came out of the gate hot on Tuesday against Colorado, immediately putting pressure on the Avalanche and getting a goal out of it just five minutes into the first period:

Erik Gustafsson, who has struggled in his own end so far this year, showed a flash of the offensive prowess he’s been reported to have when his centering shot towards the net bounced off the skate of Patrik Nemeth and in Varlamov’s wide-open net.

From there, Colorado managed to turn things around in the second period, outshooting the Blackhawks by a ridiculous 18-7 and scoring the equalizer on a ridiculous power-play shot from the point by Nathan MacKinnon:

Tyson Barrie walked in on an easy-to-collapse Blackhawks penalty kill, then passed the puck quickly back to MacKinnon who fired an easy shot past Berube due to some poor lateral movement and suboptimal angles.

From there, both teams would put up a lacklustre seven shots apiece in the final period, before the Blackhawks found the back of the net right at the start of the overtime frame. When MacKinnon fails to quickly react to the puck turning up the ice towards Varlamov’s net, he falls behind Jonathan Toews just enough to allow a quick cross-ice pass from Patrick Kane to find the Blackhawks captain for an effortless goal over Varlamov’s right shoulder.

NOTES

  • The Avalanche should have had this game in the bag. While J.F. Berube did manage to keep the team in the game with some very solid play, the defensive weaknesses that the Blackhawks have displayed this year have made them an easy target for teams looking to get a few extra points to cushion their playoff runs; while the Avalanche did pepper them with shots in the second period, being held to just seven in the third is disappointing to see.
  • It’s nice to see the league get a goal review call correct, although it’s worth considering the situation the team was in when it happened. Brandon Saad has been miserable statistically this year, playing well but seeing practically none of his shots go in and somehow ending up on the wrong side of the score sheet more often than not; that being said, having both him and Jonathan Toews standing on your front doorstep with the puck is never where you want to be, bad season or no.
  • Tyson Jost looked great, although it’s unfortunate that it didn’t end up on the scoresheet. Conversely, this was not Patrik Nemeth’s night - even putting the opening goal aside. This team could very well be a playoff team, but nights like this from some of the newer guys is a dangerous reminder that they don’t especially look like a threatening playoff team.
  • Even Nathan MacKinnon is not above reproach when due. His part in the overtime goal is a reminder that, while he is the league’s most efficient scorer (and the one doing the most with the least, statistically speaking), even a breakout season can still have areas to improve. Tonight was one of those.
  • With this overtime loss, Colorado pulled even with the Los Angeles Kings for the second Wild Card spot in the west, but fail to slide into the postseason berth with fewer overall wins and a worse goal differential. They’re still in the thick of things, but every point counts; had they pulled off a win on Tuesday night, they would be just two points behind Dallas and one ahead of the Kings. Instead, they’re still sitting just on the outside, looking in.