It is still very possible for the surprise team of the 2013-14 season to surprise again.
The Colorado Avalanche earned a hard-fought 2-1 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night at Pepsi Center, and is proud of its effort as the club moves onto a big game against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
“I’m really happy with this game and looking forward to playing against Calgary,” said goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 23 shots in the win.
The triumph over the Devils was Varlamov’s first game back in the crease after sitting out Tuesday's contest against the Los Angeles Kings due to an aggravated groin.
The Avalanche surprised the world of hockey last season after shooting out of the gates like a cannon and capturing the Central Division title during a campaign that was supposed to be an uphill battle.
But this year, the Flames have been the club that has caught the hockey world off guard.
“They remind me a bit [of] us last year,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said of the Flames on Friday. “The players came [in] with a great mindset and were ready to work hard.”
After losing its captain, Mark Giordano, to a bicep injury for the remainder of the season, speculation suggested Calgary would suffer a setback with the key defenseman and team leader absent, but the Flames have done just the opposite.
In their last 10 games entering Friday, the Flames have gone 5-3-2, which may not sound astounding in the grand scheme of records, but some of their numbers top the NHL charts this year. Calgary’s shooting percentage (10.5) is currently ranked second overall, meaning the club's accuracy is on-point. On Wednesday, the Flames beat the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on the strength of three second-period goals scored on just four shots.
This kind of play contributes to the Flames netting an average of 2.88 goals per game, which ranks seventh in the NHL.
Calgary is also a strong contender in time-crunching scenarios, most notably in overtime and shootouts. The Flames are tied for the NHL lead for the most overtime or shootout victories with 13. Comparatively, Colorado has nine shootout wins and one overtime victory.
In the Avs and Flames' first meeting of the season on Dec. 4, Calgary won 4-3 after Sean Monahan scored 1:27 into OT.
Colorado and Calgary's second head-to-head meeting on Saturday night will feature the Avalanche continuing its fight to climb the Western Conference standings and a Flames squad that is simply trying to stay in a postseason spot.
The Flames play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night before heading to the Mile High City, posing a potential advantage for Colorado, which will be rested with off days in between its current three-game homestand this week.
Calgary is third in the Pacific Division and has a total of 79 points. The Avalanche is ranked sixth in the Central Division and has an accumulation of 73 points, putting the club six points behind Los Angeles for the second wild card positions.
However, Colorado has been more consistent with its victories as of late. The Avs are 9-4-0 in their last 13 games, placing the team back in the playoff race.
Roy said he knows the importance of gaining points Saturday in order for his team to keep inching toward a playoff position.
“Every point is crucial right now. It doesn’t change anything to our objective; [our] objective remains the same. We just need to be ready for Calgary right now,” Roy said.
“There are lots of points to be had,” former Flames captain and current Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla, who scored his 582nd NHL goal against New Jersey, told the Associated Press on Thursday night. “We are just going to keep focusing on ourselves and keep trying to find ways to win games.”