Four days after squandering a two-goal lead in the final 7:34 of regulation in a stunning loss to Anaheim, the Avalanche held on for a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center on Saturday before 18,007, the first sellout since opening night.
"We’ve responded all year any time where we felt we didn’t play well as a group, which really hasn’t happened too many times,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “We’ve always come back and responded with a good, solid effort, and I thought tonight’s game was no different.”
The Stars got within 2-1 at 7:44 of the third period on a goal by Steve Ott, whose backhander from inside the left hash marks eluded Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj.
But the Avalanche responded at 13:34 when Chris Stewart led a 2-on-1 rush with Wojtek Wolski. Stewart skated into the lower left circle and fired the puck past goalie Alex Auld, who started because Marty Turco was ill.
"The downfall of our team has been (trying to protect) 2-1 leads in the third period when we’ve failed to put the nail in the coffin,” said Stewart, who added an empty-net goal with 57.5 seconds remaining. “I gave (Auld) a shoulder fake, he went down, and I shot it."
The Avalanche played with a lot more aggression in the third period Saturday than they did in Tuesday’s meltdown and subsequent 4-2 loss to the Ducks.
"We played like we were down by two goals tonight,” Stewart said. “We have to have that mentality, that no matter how much time is left, we have to show up to play.”
Avalanche captain Adam Foote said Ott’s goal gave the Stars “a little bit of a spark,” but he didn’t sense any feeling of panic.
"It felt OK,” Foote said. “We just have to get that third goal a little earlier. It was obviously huge, but it would have been nice to get it in the second period.
"We’re starting to learn how to play with the lead in the third. Teams are going to pressure us and pinch and get their ‘D’ involved in the play. It’s something we’re learning.”
It helps when a goalie plays as well as Budaj did while making his first start since Dec. 9, a 1-0 loss to Minnesota. Budaj made 39 saves, 16 in the third period -- the best of which came when he gloved defenseman Jeff Woywitka’s shot on a 4-on-1 rush.
"I was seeing the puck really well tonight,” Budaj said. “It feels good, and hopefully I can keep it up, that whenever I get the chance to play, I can help the team win and show the coaching staff that they can play me. I feel good right now, but it’s a reflection of the entire team in front of me.”
Said Sacco: “Peter played excellent. He had a real solid game. He’s played very well for us in his last several starts, and that’s what we need from Peter. He made some key saves down the stretch when it was 2-1.”
Budaj has gone 3-2-0 in his past five starts with a 1.21 goals-against average and .962 save percentage.
“Peter played awesome,” Foote said. “I think the last four or five starts he’s had, he’s played the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. That’s a great accomplishment not only for himself, but for the team.”
Milan Hejduk put the Avalanche in front 2-0 at 14:04 of the second period, but Colorado failed to register a shot on goal during 3:16 of consecutive power-play time earlier in the period that included a two-man advantage for 44 seconds.
Colorado went 0-for-3 on power plays and has gone 0-for-11 with the man advantage over the past three games.
Chris Durno gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead at 6:04 of the first period when his attempted pass for Cody McLeod from behind the net hit Auld and caromed across the goal line for his first NHL goal.
“It felt amazing,” said Durno, a 29-year-old who has played in 15 NHL games in his professional career. “It is something that you work to get for a long time. To finally get it, words cannot describe it.”
Auld, who stopped 29 of 32 shots, shrugged off the early goal as bad luck.
“It is pretty rare for that first goal to go in on a crazy hop like that,” he said. “Looking at the other end, it seemed like the hockey gods were shining on them tonight. Budaj was playing really well; he was really battling. We generated a lot of chances and limited their chances as well.”