Overtime these days, thanks to the frenetic pace of the new 3-on-3 format, is more of a game of mistakes than ever before. Sometimes a penalty, a long shift, a bad line change or merely a shot that simply misses the net spells the difference between winning and losing.
On Wednesday night in a matchup between Central Division foes, it ended up being the St. Louis Blues with the game-changing mental error.
With less than a minute to play, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog found himself with the puck on his stick and no goalie in front of him. There was nothing but sweet, sweet twine and open ice, and after slowing the play down, Landeskog buried the biscuit into the empty net to give the Avs a 4-3 win.
“I was just hoping and praying it wouldn’t bounce on my stick,” Landeskog said of the play. “I sure took my time with that one. I felt like we had some time left on the clock.”
Moments before that, a routine zone exit turned into a lethal scoring chance when defenseman Francois Beauchemin lofted the puck into the Blues zone and let center John Mitchell chase it down. Streaking toward the rubber disc, Mitchell suddenly found himself not only racing a defender, but also St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen, who left the crease in a desperate attempt to gain possession.
Mitchell poked the puck beyond Allen, pivoted and dished it across the zone to Landeskog. You know the rest.
“I knew there was under a minute left,” Landeskog said. “Beauch did a good job, just chipping it to Mitchy. Mitchy hustled and beat Allen [to] it and just slid it over. That was an easy one.
“There were chances back and forth. [Semyon Varlamov] made a huge stop there on [Vladimir] Tarasenko at the end, and even [Alexander] Steen, I think. I think we’re starting to learn. We’re starting to learn to hold onto the puck, making sure that we need to keep the shifts short. If you start overextending your shifts in overtime, you’re in trouble. So definitely starting to learn, and it felt good to win this one. We were due for a good comeback.”
There was almost a sense of disbelief on the bench as the team watched the event unfold on the ice.
“I was a little surprised that he came running out at Mitchy,” center Nathan MacKinnon said of Allen’s gambit. “We’re thankful for it, and Gabe took his time with that. It’s awesome to get this win, and we’re very excited.”
How big were Landeskog’s eyes before he took the shot? As big as his head, joked Nick Holden after the match.
That’s the kind of levity that a character win affords the players.
After scoring the first goal of the game for the league-leading 28th time this season—a pretty backhander from Matt Duchene that caromed up and over Allen and into the net—the Avs found themselves down 3-1 less than a minute into the middle stanza.
From there, Colorado went to work. The turning point in a match that was tilted in favor of St. Louis came not when Mikhail Grigorenko split the Blues defense at full speed, shrugged off some stick play and buried a shot top shelf, but during a 5-on-3 sequence that ended with no points for the Avalanche.
As funny as it may seem, the energy that the four-shot surge produced powered the Avs.
“That’s what we kept talking about on the bench: ‘Even if we don’t score on this power play, we need to create some momentum,’ and I think we did,” Landeskog said. “We were in [their zone] for most of the time… We were moving the puck around and getting some shots and getting some looks. We stuck with it.
“We stuck with it the whole game, even though they kept coming at us and they got a big goal in the start of the second. We felt like we kept pushing and kept pushing, and in the second we got some power-play momentum and Grigo scored a nice goal. After that, we felt like we kept pushing. We kept throwing pucks at this guy, but he was making some big stops. Like I said, we were due for a big comeback, and this one feels good.”
Grigorenko received praise for his efforts from head coach Patrick Roy after the match.
“He’s capable of doing that. Grigo has a lot of talent, a lot of skill around the net,” said Roy. “I’d like to see him sometimes shooting a little more, but it was an outstanding play. There’s not that many players who are capable of making a play like he did.”
From there, the Avalanche poured it on, trying to solve Allen one last time to tie the game. The equalizer came with 1:29 left on the clock and Varlamov on the bench for the extra attacker.
A MacKinnon shot from the outside hit Allen in the skate and wandered into the net. The elation in Pepsi Center was more than palpable.
“It’s been awhile since I scored at home, and it feels good,” said MacKinnon. “I had a lot of chances tonight. We were shooting from everywhere. Finally, it went in. It felt good to tie it up.”
MacKinnon, like Landeskog, felt that the turning point came as a result of the unrelenting duress the Avs put St. Louis under.
“In-zone pressure. We were shooting pucks, getting them back,” MacKinnon said. “When you’re playing defense, it’s tough when teams are battling for rebounds and getting in on the forecheck and cycling and wearing you down. And that’s what we did. Maybe my goal is the result of Allen being a little tired or whatever the case could be, but like I said, it just feels good to get the win.”
“We had a big penalty kill in the end of the third there, and Nate’s goal was huge,” Landeskog added. “That’s something we haven’t seen too much as of lately. We need to get back to playing better 6-on-5 and making sure we get pucks to the net. That was a big one.”
After the contest, Roy said the whole game was the result of a never-say-die attitude.
“I have one word in mind: resilient. We were resilient tonight,” he said. “I thought we had a really good second period. After they scored and made it 3-1, I was pretty happy with my players because they didn’t give up. We were resilient.
“A lot of times after giving that third goal, we would play worse and worse, and I thought our guys did a really good job stepping up and they played better. I thought we were solid after that goal and in the third period as well. We had a lot of chances, and their goalie made some great saves at key moments as well. I thought it was a hard-fought game, but I liked how resilient we were.”
Colorado was solid in the 4:43 of bonus hockey, playing a man-to-man system that largely stifled any chances for the Blues.
“You’ve got to stay with your man. If not, it’s going to be a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 in front of the net,” MacKinnon said. “It’s tough to change. You want to get off the ice, but if you do it’s an automatic 3-on-2 going the other way. We’re doing a better job. We won against Minny and tonight, so we’re starting to get some momentum.”
The victory helped Colorado pull within two points of the Nashville Predators, which sit in a Western Conference wild-card spot. That makes Friday’s ‘Museum Night’ contest against the Predators even more important.
“It should be exciting to play to catch Nashville. Our players should be excited about that,” said Roy. “It will be a fun game for our fans, for everybody. Two points behind these guys? If you looked maybe 10 or 15 games ago, we were 10 points behind. It’s pretty good what our guys have been doing lately.”
While the match carries with it some significance given the Avalanche’s turnaround from the start of the year, Roy said he would prefer that the squad approaches it with a balanced perspective.
“I just want to have the same mindset, which is even-keeled. Remain humble and enjoy the game,” he said. “I think our guys are having fun coming to the rink. It was a tough start, and now we’re playing some good hockey, which is exciting for every one of us. But at the same time, even if we win that game or lose that game, there’s a lot of hockey to be played. We’re going to have to continue to play the same way.”