Fighting fire with fire seemed to be the strategy the Colorado Avalanche wanted to employ against the visiting and red-hot Calgary Flames on Saturday night, and it was a game plan that ultimately paid dividends in an enormous 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center.
The Avs wanted to be durable, resilient and unflinchingly unrelenting in their offense, forcing Calgary to play Colorado’s game, and not the other way around. It didn’t matter if there was a two-goal lead or just one marker separating the clubs, Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy wanted to overwhelm his opponent.
“I said to the guys, ‘We’re not going to back up because we were up 2-0. We’re still going to go at them.’ That’s exactly what we did,” Roy said after the game. “We were up 2-0, they made it 2-1. We made it 3-1, and we just continued to go at them.”
After an initial 20-minute adjustment period that saw tempers flare, emotions run high and both goalies close the gates to the red-posted castles, the tempo started to pick up. Both teams are playing solid hockey of late and each was desperate to come away with two precious points.
The Avs got on the board first in the middle stanza when Alex Tanguay converted a tough-angle shot into an Avalanche lead at the 9:40 mark while on the power play. Firing the puck from the goal line, Tanguay was able to sneak one behind Flames goaltender Karri Ramo.
“We were buzzing in their zone on the PP for a little while, and sometimes the goalie, like everybody else, he gets a little tired,” Tanguay said of the play. “I saw he was off his angle, and with with the amount of goals we’ve been scoring on the power play, you know we need to score some goals. We were due to get a bounce coming our way and fortunately it went it.
“I just, you know, why not? I just tried it, and fortunately for us I found the back of the net.”
Not finished with bringing the heat, Tanguay was instrumental in the next Avalanche goal as well. After catching a breakout pass from rear guard Nate Guenin, Tanguay marched into the Calgary zone and dished the biscuit over to Ryan O'Reilly. No. 90 himself made a move, cut in on Ramo and blasted the puck home to give Colorado a 2-0 lead less than two minutes after the scoring started.
“Alex played really well tonight. He blocked some shots at the end, drove the net, made some great plays,” Roy said. “I thought in the second period, we largely dominated them and we should have scored more than two goals.”
“We had tons of chances. We’d like to bury a few more, but we played solid,” said Tanguay, who skated alongside O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog. “The whole team played solid, and other than the two kind of mistakes in the third period, it was a good game for us.”
Despite a third-period surge, which saw the Flames pot two goals in a comeback bid, the Avalanche added an insurance tally—from John Mitchell—to stay on top by the final buzzer. Mitchell’s goal, the eventual game-winner, came just 28 seconds after Calgary got its first of the night, helping stifle some building momentum for the visiting squad.
“That’s big because they’re kind of feeling it, they’re feeling good after closing the gap there to get within one,” Mitchell said of his goal. “It was big for our squad to be able to come out and get that third goal and get back to that two-goal lead. I wish we could have sustained that a little bit longer, but inevitably we came out with the ‘W.’”
Mitchell’s shot came after the utility forward, playing wing with center Matt Duchene and veteran Jarome Iginla, eluded multiple defenders, cut to the faceoff circle and buried a shot top shelf on the short side.
“It seems like since we put him on the wing, he’s been playing really well,” said Roy of Mitchell. “He scored an important goal, and it was a nice shot and it was a great play by him. But with Dutchy and Iggy, I thought they mixed well.”
Mitchell credits some of the club’s success to the Avalanche’s ability to matchup against the Flames, going shot for shot until the final horn sounded.
“We played our top line against their top line, and then Patty matched lines quite a bit tonight. Our top line, obviously with two tallies, and our line was able to get the third one there and get the victory,” he said before turning his focus onto areas of improvement. “Obviously, it’d be nice to not give them those two goals. It’s just little breakdowns—obviously—that cost us. We’ve just got to clean those things up.”
Not satisfied until the season is truly over, the Avs do have the chance to appreciate when hard work pays off.
“It’s a huge win. We knew it was a Game 7 before the game, for us,” said Tanguay. “We look at the standings, we know that we’re going to get ourselves to that 95-96 points in order to have a chance at getting into the playoffs. It’s going to take a lot of wins until the end of the year. Tonight was crucial. It’s a team we’re battling with. We’ll take it.
“The guys played really hard and played well,” said Roy. “I thought it was a great team effort, and it was a good moment to have a solid game like we had tonight.”