The Colorado Avalanche went into tonight’s game against Dallas following a huge 3-1 win against their bitter rivals, the Minnesota Wild. This was the final meeting between the Stars and Avalanche this season, with the Avalanche winning two of the previous three contests.
While the Dallas Stars still occupy the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference, the Avalanche entered the game on the outside looking in on 76 points.
Yet, after the Florida Panthers beat the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the evening, victory meant the Avalanche would leapfrog Minnesota and Arizona to occupy that coveted second wildcard spot. They would tie Arizona with 78 points and eight games remaining — but based on their superior goal difference, they earn the second wildcard.
The Dallas Stars held the upper-hand in the early stages, but Colorado’s netminder Philipp Grubauer continued with the solid play he’s exhibited in his past two starts in goal. The Avalanche earned the first power-play of the game with a little more than five minutes played via a trip by Radek Faksa on Mikko Rantanen, but the power-play was unable to capitalize. The Avs received their second power-play of the evening halfway through the period as Joel L’Esperance’s stick found Samuel Girard’s face for a two-minute penalty. The Colorado power-play unit was still unable to find the net on two opportunities against the Dallas Stars, who have the fifth-best penalty kill in the NHL.
The goaltenders for both clubs looked solid in the first period as they faced extended periods of pressure in their zone. The Dallas Stars’ Ben Bishop withstood the flurry of chances the Colorado Avalanche created offensively late in the period to keep the game at zero. The Avalanche had the superior shots-on-goal with thirteen to the Dallas Stars’ nine for the period
Both teams continued their strong offensive play — as did both goaltenders — with an edge in favor of the Dallas Stars offensively early on. The game had the feel of a playoff-level contest in terms of game speed. The Colorado Avalanche gave the Dallas Stars their first power-play within three minutes, as Matt Calvert was called for interference on Jamie Benn. However, the Avalanche penalty kill kept the game nothing-nothing.
The Avalanche went back on the power-play with 6:31 remaining in the second as Ben Lovejoy hooked Tyson Barrie. The third time on the power-play was not the charm for the Avalanche tonight. Late in the period the Avalanche maintained possession in their offensive zone and the pressure paid off as they broke the deadlock with 2:01 remaining. The birthday boy, Erik Johnson, scored the five-hole goal from the point via assists from Samuel Girard and Colin Wilson. Not a bad way for “the Condor” to celebrate his 31st birthday!
As expected, Dallas went into the third period with high intensity, but Grubauer was up to the challenge and kept the puck out of the Avalanche net.
The Colorado Avalanche doubled their lead as defender Tyson Barrie scored off the left post with a wrist shot at 5:19 in the period. This was Barrie’s 77th career goal and 300th point. He is now tied for the lead with Sandis Ozolinsh in franchise goals among defensemen.
The Dallas Stars went on their second power-play with 9:40 remaining. Again, Grubauer came up big in net and continued to make stops despite losing his paddle. Tyler Seguin nearly scored for Dallas but ended up putting his one-timer into the side netting. The Avalanche ultimately killed off the penalty.
However, the Avalanche had double-trouble late in the game. Right-winger Mikko Rantanen departed the game early with a mid-body injury and Dallas scored with five minutes remaining to make the game 2-1.
The Stars continued to push toward the tying goal, but the Avalanche defense remained steadfast. Carl Soderberg confirmed the Avs’ victory via the empty-netter with 49 seconds remaining.
This was a huge must-win game for the Avalanche, as the regular season is winding down. Tonight’s 3-1 victory brings them up to 78 points and into the second wildcard spot. Philipp Grubauer continued his recent stellar play, making 44 saves on 45 shots.
The Avs’ defenders are stepping up big offensively, with Johnson and Barrie earning tallies in lieu of an injured Gabriel Landeskog. The only negative result from this game was Mikko Rantanen’s injury, which is the last thing Colorado needs as they make the playoff push. Hopefully Rantanen leavening the game early was a precautionary decision.
After earning all four points on a two-game road trip against division opponents, the Avalanche will play back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday against another Central Division foe, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Saturday game is the Avs’ final home matinee start, with the Pepsi Center puck drop at 1:00 PM MT.