A strong first period from the Colorado Avalanche wasn’t enough to outlast the red-hot Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night at Pepsi Center, and the home team fell 3-2 in regulation.
The Avs started the scoring off just over two minutes into the match, taking the lead on a tough-angle tally from Dennis Everberg, who beat Ducks netminder Jason LaBarbera five-hole for his first NHL goal.
“I just got the puck in the neutral zone, and I chipped the puck behind their ‘D’ and used my speed,” said Everberg of the score. “Just took the puck to the net and saw [Alex Tanguay] drove the net and luckily it went in.
“Obviously it was a relief, and a good feeling to get it and something I’ve been waiting on. I’ve had a lot of chances and it’s a good feeling, but too bad it ended up in a loss anyway.”
The lead wouldn’t last more than five minutes though, as Ducks forward Corey Perry got the equalizer on a bit of a fluke play. Perry fired off an initial shot on Semyon Varlamov while rushing in alone on a breakaway. Varlamov made the first save but the puck bounced back into Perry’s body and then caromed back toward the Avalanche net, off of Varlamov’s mask and into the net as Perry collided with the netminder.
The goal held up to NHL video review and the game was tied 1-1.
Not content to skate into intermission deadlocked, Nathan MacKinnon wheeled into the Anaheim zone, picked up a loose puck along the boards and hammered home a laser of a shot that beat LaBarbera far-side with a minute left in the opening frame to take back the lead.
It appeared that momentum would be on Colorado’s side in the middle stanza following the late goal, but that wouldn’t be the case as Anaheim surged throughout. The trouble started when Varlamov had to make a big stop on a shorthanded breakaway chance and continued when the Ducks scored two goals—from Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler—in the first 10 minutes of the period, the tallies coming less than two minutes apart. Meanwhile the Avalanche struggled to get a shot on goal and finished with just two in the frame.
“It was not a pretty period, that’s for sure, and it’s too bad because we had a really good start and we scored that first goal,” said head coach Patrick Roy after the game. “Then we just stopped playing a bit there, and then all of the sudden we started playing again toward the end of the first. It’s too bad because it hurts us right now, and we have to find ways to play 60 minutes. This is how we’re going to win hockey games.”
“We’ve got to take care of our side of things, and we didn’t do it in the second period. First period was great, third period was pretty good and we just lost the game in the second period,” said Avalanche center Matt Duchene. “I think we were just discombobulated. We couldn’t break out, couldn’t get anything going on the rush and we couldn’t get any zone time. It’s tough to put a finger on what happened, but at the end of the day it happened.”
The third period was more evenly matched for both teams, but the Avs just couldn’t find a way to solve LaBarbera and the strong defense in front of him. Colorado had the best chance to even the score late in the final frame with Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin in the penalty box for high-sticking, but the home team just couldn’t convert and fell 3-2.
“We had a chance to still come out with a point in the third and missed some good opportunities, and its too bad,” said Duchene.
The loss was Colorado’s first regulation defeat in the last seven contests.
“It doesn’t have to [always be] pretty,” said Roy. “Things are not always going to go our way, and it’s when things are not going our way we try to force plays, push plays and this is where we get into trouble.
“Obviously we’re going to need more from some of our guys. We’re going to need more consistency, especially from our forwards. Everybody’s talking a lot about our D, but I think we have some forwards that are capable of giving a little more to the team.”
The Avalanche was perfect while down a skater again, shutting down all five Anaheim power plays to stretch the running P.K. streak to 25-straight kills.
MacKinnon’s goal was his third in three straight games, tying his career long goal streak from last season. He has four goals and five points in that span.
LaBarbera started the game—his third start in three days—after arriving in Denver as an injury call up for Frederik Andersen, who didn’t skate this morning due to tightness in his legs. Backup goalie John Gibson ended up being a late scratch with his own lower-body injury, forcing LaBarbera into the net and Anaheim goaltending coach Dwayne Roloson into the emergency backup role on the bench.
The Avalanche returns to action on Tuesday to take on the visiting Vancouver Canucks. According to Roy, Varlamov will get the start in net.