Colorado forward John Mitchell received the puck from a teammate at the left circle, wound up his stick and attempted to fire a shot toward the Montreal net as time was just about to expire, but his stick broke and the Canadiens grabbed the loose puck, securing them the victory and handing the Avalanche a 3-2 loss on Saturday night.
Would Mitchell or another Avs player have scored on that shot or in the ensuing sequence? We'll never know, but it showed just how the final contest of the four-game road trip went for the Avs.
Colorado led 1-0 after the first period, but the Canadiens twice scored in a matter of seconds after Avalanche power plays expired in the middle frame and led 3-1 after 40 minutes of play.
Montreal's third goal, and the second by P.K. Subban, came from a badly timed skate malfunction. Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie was chasing Subban around the Colorado net, but his skates lost an edge and he fell to the ice at the left post, leaving the former Norris Trophy winner and one of the best offensive blueliners in the game all alone with the puck. Subban skated around the net, changed directions in front of goalie Calvin Pickard, made a nice move and slid the puck past the young netminder's left pad.
Bad luck? Maybe, but Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy wasn't about to make excuses after the game.
"I thought defensively, we did not play well on those one-on-twos," Roy said. "We gave too much room to the puck carrier, and we should have put a little more pressure. Especially the one with Tyson tripping behind the net or [losing] his edge, I think Nick Holden should have looked at where Subban was instead of turning his back."
Offensively, it seemed like the Avs' leading scorer from a season ago couldn't buy a goal.
Forward Matt Duchene had 10 shots in the contest and nearly tallied twice in the first period, including on close chances that hit iron and had the puck jump off his stick.
With 6:15 left in the opening stanza, Duchene's shot from the slot went off the left post, the crossbar and goalie Carey Price's skate before ricocheting away. That would have given the Avs a 2-0 lead. Earlier in the period, the center got a cross pass from a teammate and had an open net to shoot at from the right goal line, but he couldn't get a good shot off in time as the puck seemed to roll off his stick and he was forced to regain possession of it.
A nearly similar play happened midway through the final frame as Colorado was trying to cut away at a two-goal deficit. Duchene was again set up below the right circle, received the pass and this time got off a good shot, but Price, Canada's gold medal-winning goalie from the Olympics last February, made probably his best stop of the game with a sprawling toe save.
"[Price] played a great game, he made some big saves," Duchene said to NHL.com. "But that one, the toe save, I've got to lift that. If I lift that eight inches, it's in the net."
Duchene finally connected with 2:31 left to bring some life to a late rush by the Avs, getting the team to within one score. Attacking toward the front of the net, Duchene got a pass from Jarome Iginla and tipped the puck between Price's legs to make it a 3-2 contest.
Price finished with 32 saves, but Roy said his club needed to test him more.
"Carey Price made several good saves. In the second period, we counted about 10 good scoring chances and seven missed the net," Roy said. "We're going to have be a little bit better around the net, and put more pucks on net and make the goalie work a little more."
On the other side of the ice, Pickard was a bright spot for the Avalanche in his first career start. Pickard, who was recalled on Thursday from Lake Erie (AHL) and played that night against the Senators, looked more comfortable in his second game and stopped 33 shots to give the Avs a chance late.
"Even yesterday we had a lot of confidence in him," Roy said of his netminder. "We didn't show any panic with our decisions or the way we wanted to deal with the situation (of the team's top two goalies being injured). He was the reason why we had a chance to come back in that game."
PICKARD MAKES FIRST START
In his first contest on Thursday at Ottawa, goalie Calvin Pickard was just thrown into the action after Reto Berra left with an early injury. He couldn't really think about the moment of finally playing in the top league in the world, but that was not the case on Saturday night as Pickard knew he would make his first career NHL start and in a hostile environment at Bell Centre.
"This is obviously a pretty special building to have your first actual start as a game," said Avs forward John Mitchell after morning skate. "Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada, it doesn’t get any better than this."
Pickard played well in his first full game and finished with 33 saves. Two of the three goals he gave up came from defensive breakdowns while the Canadiens had odd-man rushes—two-on-one and one-on-zero chances—and the other from a blast by Subban on the power play.
He denied the first 20 shots he faced and was tested by Montreal in the first period. But he was a solid presence between the pipes and made 17 saves in the opening stanza. His best save probably came midway through the first period when Max Pacioretty had a breakaway opportunity, but the 22-year-old netminder stopped it with a great left-pad save.
Pickard also kept Colorado in the game in the third frame, making a point-blank stop on a backhand chance by PA Parenteau with 11:39 left. It was a big save as the Avalanche got within one goal later in the stanza and was pressing the Habs for another in the final moments of the contest.
MITCHELL AND TANGUAY STRIKE AGAIN
Two players that the Avalanche missed dearly late last season were forwards Alex Tanguay and John Mitchell, and both have shown in the last two games how much they bring the team's offensive depth.
The Tanguay-Mitchell connection gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead in the first period on a great two-on-one finish. Coming down the slot, Tanguay fed the puck to his right for Mitchell, who quickly moved it back to the winger for an easy tap-in goal with Price out of position.
It was the second points of the season for both forwards after they each tallied their first goals of the 2014-15 campaign on Thursday against the Senators.
Tanguay only appeared in 16 games last season while dealing with knee and hip injuries, and Mitchell missed the final two regular-season contests and all of the playoffs with a head injury. Mitchell made his season debut in Ottawa after missing the first four contests this year with migraines.
The tally for Tanguay was his 143rd with the Avalanche and moved him into sole possession of ninth place on the franchise's all-time goal-scoring list. He also now has 413 career points with the Avs and is one away from tying Valeri Kamensky for ninth on the franchise's all-time scoring list.