PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals; Avalanche lead 1-0.
TIME: Friday, 9:30 p.m. EDT.
The Colorado Avalanche struggled at the end of the regular season. Judging by their postseason opener, the Avs must have been looking ahead to the playoffs.
Colorado looks to build on a strong all-around performance and take a 2-0 lead in its first-round series against the Dallas Stars.
The Avalanche went 2-6-1-1 to close the season and won just three of their last 15 home games, finishing with a less-than dominant 19-14-6-2 mark at the Pepsi Center.
None of that mattered in Wednesday night's 3-1 victory over the Stars. Colorado scored twice in the first nine minutes and David Aebischer looked a lot like Patrick Roy in his first playoff start, making 37 saves.
"We haven't been playing all that well this season here at home, so it was important for us to get off to a good start," Colorado forward Alex Tanguay said. "I think we did that in the first period. We skated well and that's what we need to do."
The Avs were crisp from the start, with numerous good scoring chances early and tight checking at the blue line. Peter Forsberg scored 6:14 into the game and Tanguay made it 2-0 just over two minutes later to knock the defensive-minded Stars back.
Aebischer's performance was the most encouraging one for Colorado because his play will be the most critical if the Avs are to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Aebischer built on his breakout season in the playoff opener, continuing his emergence after taking over for four-time Cup winner Roy, who retired after last season.
"He kept us in the game," Forsberg said. "They had a lot of power plays and he made some unbelievable saves. It was great to see him play like that."
The Stars' sluggish performance wasn't completely surprising considering their record on the road this season. Dallas was just 15-19-5-2 away from the American Airlines Center, compared to 26-7-8-0 in front of the home fans.
Dallas was outshot 15-6 in the first period Wednesday, but picked up the pace with 32 shots the final two periods. The Stars, though, couldn't beat Aebischer until Niko Kapanen's wrister trickled through his pads with 6:30 left.
That only made it 3-1 after Joe Sakic scored four minutes into the third period.
"It probably wasn't the start we wanted," said Stars goalie Marty Turco, who faced 25 shots. "Certainly the strong push to finish, the hunger at the end was there. It was a great lesson for us."
If Dallas applies what it learned, Colorado will be facing a Stars team that will start Game 2 with much more intensity - especially after Dallas watched the Avs' fast start carry them to a 1-0 series lead.
"They came out and capitalized early on a couple of chances and put us on our heels," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "They grabbed the early momentum, and it carried through to a win for them."
Sakic has scored in three straight playoff games and five of the last six, dating to Colorado's first-round loss to Minnesota last year.
The teams get two days off after Friday's contest before the series shifts to Dallas for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Wednesday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Stars - 97 points, 5th seed. Avalanche - 100 points, 4th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Kapanen, 1 goal; Rob DiMaio and Teppo Numminen, 1 assist; Richard Matvichuk, Brenden Morrow and Philippe Boucher, 2 PIM. Avalanche - Forsberg, Tanguay and Sakic, 1 goal; Bob Boughner, 2 assists; Adam Foote, 4 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Stars - Power play: 0.0 percent (0 for 5). Penalty killing: 100 percent (4 for 4). Avalanche - Power play: 0.0 percent (0 for 4). Penalty killing: 100 percent (5 for 5).
GOALTENDERS: Stars - Turco (0-1, 3.00); Ron Tugnutt (no appearances). Avalanche - Aebischer (1-0, 1.00); Tommy Salo (no appearances).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-1. Aebischer started all four games and allowed just three goals in winning the first three matchups, including a 29-save, 3-0 victory in the first meeting Nov. 15. Turco struggled against the Avs, giving up 11 goals in the three defeats before making 15 saves in a 5-1 win on Feb. 20. Tanguay had three goals and two assists for Colorado, while Jason Arnott recorded a hat trick in the final meeting and had four goals and an assist in the series.