The Colorado Avalanche are going to the playoffs for the season straight season. While everything else from Thursday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets is moot, the team showed tremendous heart as they were able to fight back from a late deficit to win the game 3-2 in overtime.
Thanks to some incredible play by Philipp Grubauer - and one incredibly timed shot off the goal post - the Avalanche held on long enough to force overtime and accrue the single point needed to clinch a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
After falling down 2-0 late in the first period, it seemed like the Avalanche were going to make their fans sweat things out to game 82 for the second straight year. The veterans on this team weren’t going to let that happen.
Tyson Barrie cut the deficit in half going into the second intermission with his 14th goal of the season. Then with a little more than nine minutes remaining in regulation, it was Big Ol’ Carl Soderberg who tied the game on one of the nicest deflections you’ll see all season.
The goal brought Soderberg to 23 on the season and one point shy of 50 but more importantly, it put the Avalanche in position to force overtime and gain the one point in the standings.
They wouldn’t make it easy on themselves as the Avs would take a too many men on the ice penalty with 1:30 left in regulation sending the Jets to the power play. Desperate to keep the puck out of the net, every Avalanche penalty killer was throwing their body in front of the puck, but it was the two and 3/8 inches of iron that would save the day. The beautiful red post got in the way of a Jets shot at an open net, giving the Avalanche a chance to clear the puck and send the game to overtime.
Even though the Avalanche had already clinched a playoff birth, the team’s leaders wanted to go out in style. With the Pepsi Center rocking, the Avs killed off the remaining penalty and with the teams playing four-on-four, it was Nathan MacKinnon who fed a perfect pass to Erik Johnson to set up the game winning goal less than two minutes into overtime.
The assist was Nathan MacKinnon’s 98th of the season, a new career-high.
The win gives the Avalanche 91 points on the season and sets up a first round matchup against one of Calgary, Winnipeg, Nashville or St. Louis.
After playing half the season as the one of the worst teams in the NHL, the playoffs seemed out of the question six weeks ago. Everything changed in the month of March. Aided by some ugliness in the Western Conference, Colorado started winning games on the back of some incredible goaltending and they were able to work their way back up the standings.
The Avalanche are heating up at the right time as they now have points in each of their last nine games. Now all they need is for Mikko Rantanen to heal up in time to get back in the lineup late next week.
If Chicago is able to beat Dallas tomorrow night, Saturday’s game in San Jose won’t be irrelevant for the Avalanche. The possibility of grabbing the first Wild Card spot would still exist, but really all that matters is getting through the 60 minutes without injury.
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday April 10th - one day after the Avalanche have the best odds to win the draft lottery - all we know for sure is that that Avs will be a part of them.
It’s been one hell of a season so far and now we know it’s going to go on at least a couple weeks longer.