When the schedule makers decided on a home-and-home series between the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild in early December, they were likely hoping to highlight two Central Division rivals that have shown their displeasure for each other in the past.
That mutual irritation was noticeable in the first game on Saturday night in Minnesota, but it was the home team that left the ice smiling after a dominant 3-0 win.
The Avs didn't sugarcoat the loss after; it was not an overall good game for the visitors. They'll get their chance at redemption this evening at Pepsi Center on a night when the organization honors its 20th Anniversary Team, which was selected by the fans.
"We weren't very good the other night. There is no hiding that," defenseman Erik Johnson said after Monday's morning skate. "We didn't have a very good game. We know they won all the battles, all the foot races, the loose puck battles; they pretty much owned that part of the game."
Despite goaltender Semyon Varlamov having a strong performance with a season-high 41 saves, the Avalanche couldn't generate much offense itself. Minnesota held Colorado to just 20 shots and kept the play in the Avs' end for most of the night.
While the final score and shot differential were handily on the Wild's side, the Avalanche is optimistic there isn't much that needs to be changed for the second game of this series.
"They were quicker than us on loose pucks. They were better in the one-on-one battles. They deserved the game," said Colorado head coach Patrick Roy, giving credit to a good contest played by Minnesota. "If you want to beat them, you have to be better in those two areas. We need to jump on loose pucks. We need to be better on one-on-one. We need to generate more offense. We need to generate enough offense. We need to get more pucks to the net. That's how we're going to beat them.
"Compete level is a very important factor in hockey today, and we need to be better in that area if we want to have a chance to win tonight."
The players echoed Roy's sentiment as well.
"They were just relentless on the puck, and on the flip side we weren't, bottom line," said forward Matt Duchene. "Obviously there are adjustments to be made structurally, but not much. It's very, very minimal. At the end of the day, it's just about us having pride and working hard."
With the likes of Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky, Sandis Ozolinsh, Ray Bourque and other great players that have donned the team's burgundy and blue colors watching this evening and with a division rival in town, the Avs want to have a good showing.
"Not just special, but we need to have it," Duchene said of getting a victory. "We need to play a good game tonight. We need to play the way we did opening night against these guys but just finish it off. Don't have a 10-minute lapse in the third. It could be a big momentum swing for us if we're able to get the job done tonight."
This will be the third meeting of the season between these clubs, as they also met in Denver for the season opener on Oct. 8. That opening-night contest still doesn’t sit well with the Avs, as they let a 4-1 lead slip away in the third period before ultimately losing 5-4.
"We were embarrassed here last time," Johnson said. "Outplayed them for the majority of the game and then obviously gave it away late. We know we can outplay them. We know we can play with them, and it's a huge game at home for us. It means a lot, and we're going to play like it."
In these home-and-homes, the series is often thought of as just one long game with the emotions and tendencies from the first contest carrying over to the second. Minnesota won the first three periods, but Colorado still has a chance to write a happy ending in the next three.
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy will tweak his lineup just a tad for the second half of the home-and-home set.
John Mitchell will move from left wing on a line with Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau to center with veterans Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla.
Andreas Martinsen will be the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past two games. He'll take Mitchell's old spot on the left side with Soderberg and Comeau.
Mikhail Grigorenko, who had centered Tanguay and Iginla, will be a healthy scratch with defenseman Zach Redmond.
"It's hard to take Grigo out of the lineup, but he didn't play as well the last game in Minny," Roy said after morning skate. "We feel we need the presence of Martinsen. He's a big body. He protects the puck well. We think he'll help us."
Semyon Varlamov will make his third consecutive start in net for Colorado. Roy said that backup Reto Berra will play on Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
20TH ANNIVESARY TEAM NIGHT
The Avalanche 20th Anniversary Team will be honored this evening with a special pregame ceremony and "Jerseys Off Our Backs" presentation.
Fans are encouraged to be in their seats at Pepsi Center by 6:45 p.m. for the night's festivities.
The 20-member squad was voted by the fans earlier this season and includes forwards Adam Deadmarsh, Chris Drury, Matt Duchene, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Valeri Kamensky, Gabriel Landeskog, Claude Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny, Alex Tanguay and Stephane Yelle, defensemen Rob Blake, Ray Bourque, Adam Foote, Erik Johnson, John-Michael Liles, and Sandis Ozolinsh, and goaltenders Patrick Roy and Semyon Varlamov.
Sixteen of the 20 members are expected to be in the house, with the exception of Drury, Lemieux—who had made prior commitments—and current NHL players Liles (Carolina) and Stastny (St. Louis).
Former Avalanche president and general manager Pierre Lacroix, the architect of the 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cup championship teams, will also be honored.
Gabriel Landeskog—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Andreas Martinsen—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Alex Tanguay—John Mitchell—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Chris Wagner—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Brandon Gormley—Nate Guenin
Scratches: Mikhail Grigorenko and Zach Redmond