It doesn’t always work that way when you’re playing on tired legs, and the opening 20 minutes belonged to the home team. Outshot 20-9 and trailing 1-0 after a spectacular give and go between Jordan Staal and Ryan Murphy that found twine, the Avalanche entered the first intermission in need of a rally.
“They were skating well. They seemed to be very fresh, and sometimes it makes a big difference,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said of the early Carolina surge.
A revival is exactly what the club got in the following 40 minutes of play. Despite falling down to 2-0 off of a Patrick Dwyer tally early in the second, the Avalanche battled back into match. The turnaround started with sending more shots on net, which in turn created more chances.
This was evident when both Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon clanged the post on quality shots on goal.
“I thought we had some good moments in the second. I mean, Dutchy hit the post and they went on the other side and made it 2-0. That could have been something that put us back at 1-1,” said Roy, who changed up his forward pairings to spark some goalscoring. “I think when we changed the lines—we put the top six together—they started to generate more offense"
It wasn’t until Duchene solved Anton Khudobin at the start of the third that the comeback seemed a reality. The beneficiary of a crazy, arching, rainbow of a pass from Jarome Iginla that went up and over a defender, Duchene scooped the bouncing puck up and into the cage to pull the Avs within one goal with 19:35 left to play.
The tally was Duchene’s second in the last three games and lit a fire under the young center, who continued to buzz for the remainder of the night.
“I thought they played well. I thought they had some good moments,” Roy said of the line comprised of Duchene, Iginla and Alex Tanguay. “They had some good chances.”
The Avalanche got the equalizer at 10:05 in the final stanza when John Mitchell went coast-to-coast after stealing the puck behind his own net. Burning into the Hurricanes zone, Mitchell let a shot rip, beating Khudobin just over the leg pad with a perfectly placed shot.
“That was a big goal by Mitchy to tie the game at 2-2,” Roy said.
Both sides continued to hunger for the game-winner, trading chances, but the match would ultimately be decided in the shootout.
I thought we had a better third, but I thought we just exchanged too [many] scoring chances. We should have been more patient. But, it is what it is,” said Roy. “At least we picked up a point. We’re certainly not happy. We’d like to have both points. We managed to stay in that game and obviously our goalie was the key factor.”
Carolina converted on its first two shootout attempts—both fantastic moves to beat Calvin Pickard—while the Avalanche was unable to tally on its first two tries, sealing the 3-2 Hurricanes victory.
Despite the fact that the Avs could use the back-to-back excuse to explain the slow start, Roy said he doesn’t want to take any credit away from Carolina’s play.
“Is it the fact that we played yesterday that we had a slow start? I don’t like to attribute that to the fact that we played the night before,” said Roy. “We just lost our battles. We just played against a team that competed hard. Their compete level was a lot better than ours.
“I’m not looking for excuses here, but they were waiting for us. They were ready.”
Still, a point is a point, especially on the road.
“Like I said to the guys on the other side, ‘I’m don’t think I’m going to re-watch that game ‘cause I’m afraid we might lose our point,’” Roy joked.
Goalies, Goalies, Goalies
As much as can be said about the play of both teams, more should be said about the efforts of both goaltenders on the evening. With Semyon Varlamov on the bench for a rare night off during this second half of the season, Pickard was given the chance to step in for Colorado.
Like he’s done so many times this year, Pickard kept his club in the match for the duration of the contest. He was outstanding for the Avalanche once again, sprawling, spreading, sliding, squirming and working to give his teammates the chance to come back, which they did.
“He was phenomenal, especially in that first period,” Roy said of the young keeper. “But he was really good all night long. He made several good saves and kept us in the game in the first period.”
Perhaps his biggest save of the night came with less than a minute left to play in the middle frame. Diving to his right to prevent a wide-open scoring chance for the Hurricanes, Pickard maneuvered himself just enough to devour the puck in his body. It was just one of many scrambling plays that Pickard managed to make to keep the biscuit out of the basket.
All of this comes after Pickard was recalled from the AHL, where he was carrying the load for the Lake Erie Monsters.
“The more he plays, the better he plays,” said Roy of ensuring that Pickard isn’t sitting on the bench for too long. “It seems to work well for him.”
Pickard finished the night with 44 stops on 46 shots and a .957 save percentage.
“It is a concern. It’s way too much,” Roy said of the high shot count. “In the first, we had so many turnovers and giveaways. We were not sharp at all. But the good thing is it’s a good group. They bounced back in the second and the third, played a lot better.”
Anton Khudobin was equally impressive between the pipes, shutting down the Avs for 40 straight minutes and through two rounds of the man-on-man skills competition at the end.