In fact, with only two teams in the Western Conference sniffing the eighth and final berth, it’s more likely to be a knock-down, drag-out fight until the final horn sounds.
While fans watch the standings and look ahead at the remaining slate, the Colorado Avalanche will continue to maintain its short-term focus. There is only one thing ahead of the team right now, and that’s Wednesday’s game at the Vancouver Canucks.
“We’re going to have to find a way to win the next one, that’s all,” head coach Patrick Roy said after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. “Short-term [vision] for us, and now we have a big one coming up in Vancouver. We’re going to have to be ready for that one.”
Looking to stay in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference-playoff picture without their captain, the Avs came out strong through 40 minutes of play. The trouble for them was that last 20.
“We’ve got to be better defensively. We made some mistakes at key moments,” Roy said of what cost his squad the contest. “It was a bad turnover on the third goal and bad tracking on the second one. We need to be better in those moments of the game.”
The Avalanche got on the board first, putting home two tallies in less than two minutes in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Erik Johnson opened the scoring with a rip from the slot, sniping a feed from Matt Duchene past goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
“I wasn’t really actively looking to get into the play,” Johnson said of his marker. “I was just kind of creeping in, and Dutchy kind of gave me a little bit of a knuckle puck. I wasn’t for sure thinking I could pick it up because it was bouncing a little bit, but I was able to corral it and put a shot five-hole. It ended up being a key goal.”
The goal fueled Colorado, which found the back of the net a second time while on the power play when Duchene plucked a loose puck from along the pad of a sprawling Pavelec and tucked it in.
From there, it was just a matter of controlling the play.
“We want to obviously try to make plays when they’re there, but keep pucks out of the middle unless you’re 100 percent sure,” Johnson said of what to do when taking a lead into the final frame. “‘D’ aren’t pinching unless they’re sure they can get the puck. It’s pretty basic hockey. You just want to own the lines—each blue line, each red line—[and] get pucks deep. When you’re down low, don’t make a play unless you have one, for sure. Possess the puck, cycle the puck; possession down there is less time in our own end.”
The way Roy saw it, things started to go downhill when the Avalanche was called for three consecutive penalties, the last of which resulted in a goal against.
“I thought we had a strong first period. I thought we were solid until we got those penalties. Especially the last one was one too many,” Roy said. “I felt that after that, we could not get the momentum back. Obviously, when they made it 3-2, we started buzzing again, but sometimes it’s too late.”
The losing squad is always going to make a push, and just like Winnipeg did before, Colorado fought back late. Despite surrendering the game-tying and eventual game-winning goals by the 9:01 mark of the third period, the Avs more than doubled the Jets’ shot total, firing 15 shots on goal in the stanza. The players just couldn’t convert one last time.
“You go into the third period up a goal, and it doesn’t matter what happened in the second,” Johnson said. “You’ve obviously got to reset and come back out. It’s been a problem for our team, closing out games and tonight was no different. We gave up too many chances and give them credit, they played really well in the third. We’ve got to find a way to calm things down, and push back at the right time. We didn’t do that. We pushed hard at the end, but it was too little too late.”
With the loss and a Minnesota Wild win at the Montreal Canadiens, the Avs have fallen out of the eighth seed regardless of sharing a 74-point total. The Wild again has a game in hand, giving the club a momentary advantage.
Colorado will look to make the discrepancy irrelevant on Wednesday when facing the Canucks.
“We win and we lose as a team,” Roy said. “We stick together.”
ONE GAME DOWN
Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog was suspended for three games on Thursday, which means there’s now two more remaining after Saturday’s match.
In Landeskog’s absence, forward Andreas Martinsen was slotted to play on the wing alongside Carl Soderberg and Shawn Matthias.
“When you have a guy like Landy out, it hurts. He’s our captain,” Matthias said on Saturday. “He plays the game the right way. He plays hard every night. We respect him a lot. But for Marty to step up—he had a great game last game—he’s been playing hard. He’s a big body. We’ve got a big line. We’ve got to play simple. We’ve got to play low and play hard and get pucks to the net and play that big-man style.”
Martinsen finished the match with one shot and one attempt blocked through 9:33 of ice time.
“There’s no easy games in this league,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep going the way we did last time and play good as a team. When we do that, we can beat everyone.”
PK DOING WORK
Although the Avs allowed a power-play goal in the second period of Saturday’s loss, the club has still been outstanding while playing at a disadvantage.
The goal ended a run of 25 consecutive successful penalty kills, dating back to Feb. 21. On top of that, Colorado has now only allowed two man-advantage markers in the last 38 shorthanded situations (94.7%) dating back to Feb. 12.
“We’re confident. We know every game matters right now,” Matthias said. “We’ve been playing good hockey, playing smarter. It’s been good.”
Matt Duchene leads the team with a career-high 29 goals, topping his previous best of 27 set in 2010-11. Duchene is one away from becoming the first Avalanche player to hit the 30-goal mark since 2006-07 when both Joe Sakic (36) and Milan Hejduk (35) did it. He also leads the Avs in points (55), game-winning goals (6-tied), faceoff percentage (58.7%) and takeaways (40). His six game-winning goals match his career best set in 2013-14.
With an assist on Duchene’s marker, Jarome Iginla tied Jean Ratelle (1,267) for 36th place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. Iginla leads Colorado with 12 power-play goals, the most by an Avalanche player since Sakic (16) and Hejduk (12) in 2006-07. Iginla needs one tally to reach the 20-goal mark for the 17th time—only Jaromir Jagr has more 20-goal campaigns among active players (19).