Earlier this season, the Colorado Avalanche's comeback bids seemed to always fall short. The Avs continuously battled back from deficits going into the third period, but they came away with zero points to show for their effort on most nights.
Colorado is starting to complete those comebacks and force the tiebreaking period as it now has points in its last three games (1-0-2) and eight of its last nine (6-1-2). On Thursday night at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche once again grabbed a parting gift in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was a game where the Avs were satisfied that they received a point when they could have easily entered the New Year with none.
"Result wise, getting a point is a good thing. But we can't be happy with our performance, especially in the second period," said head coach Patrick Roy. "That was not good enough. Thank God our goalie was there. Thank God he made some great saves in that second period, kept us there. We were just not quite sharp in that second period."
The middle frame was the difference in the game in two ways: first the Blackhawks had a strong showing to take the lead, but second, the Avalanche hung on enough to be within striking distance entering the last 20 minutes of regulation.
The Blackhawks notched three unanswered goals and two in the first 4:20 of the second period to take a 3-1 lead, but the score could have been a lot worse as Chicago outshot Colorado 17-5 in the frame.
"We were pretty good in the first until the last five minutes, they took over," said defenseman Erik Johnson. "In the second, we were lucky to get out just down a goal. They outplayed us badly, and we shouldn't have had much of a chance to be in that game but our goalie kept us in it."
Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov made 15 of his 39 saves in the middle period, and Cody McLeod's long shot from the slot fooled Chicago goalie Scott Darling enough to make it a one-goal game going into the third.
"I thought we backed off a little bit too much. We gave them room to make plays and skate with the puck," said Colorado defenseman Francois Beauchemin. "That is one thing that you can't really do against that team. They have so much speed and skill; they'll pick you apart like they did with us in the second. The key for us was that we responded in the third with a big goal."
The Avalanche had 11 shots in the third, and Johnson tied the contest at 3-3 with 4:55 left after the team killed off back-to-back interference penalties to Beauchemin and Alex Tanguay.
"I thought we defended well. I was happy, but that was a big goal for us," Roy said of Johnson's seventh tally of the season. "That is what we've been trying to do pretty much all year, bring those games into overtime when we're behind in the third period. Good for us to have at least a point tonight, but we didn’t deserve [it]. Tonight it was their game. They outplayed us."
Colorado had the opportunity to steal two points in extra time, but Jonathan Toews quickly ended the contest when Chicago received a 4-on-3 advantage after a too many men on the ice penalty to the Avs late in OT.
Despite the loss, the Avalanche finished December with a 9-3-2 mark—equaling the franchise record for the highest points percentage in the last month of the year (.714). The team's nine victories are tied for the second most and one short of the franchise record of 10 set in December 2011.
"If you told us at the start of the month that that is what we'll do, we'll take it, all players, all coaches," Johnson said. "That is a really good month and something to build on going into the New Year. We played a lot better as of late, and I think we can continue to keep playing better. Obviously, tonight was not one of our better games, but we have a lot to play for coming up."
BARRIE MISSES GAME WITH SICKNESS
Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie was a late scratch to the lineup as he missed Thursday's game with flu-like symptoms.
It was the first contest that Barrie had missed this season since Oct. 24 when he was serving the last of a three-game suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety.
Rear guard Nate Guenin replaced Barrie in the lineup, returning to game action for the first time since suffering a head injury in the second period of the Dec. 21 outing versus Toronto. Guenin, who was also appearing in his 200th NHL contest, played on the third defensive pairing with Brandon Gormley.
Zach Redmond, who was slated to play with Gormley earlier in the day, moved up to Barrie's usual position on the second pairing with Nick Holden.
SCORING FIRST, AGAIN
The Avalanche got on the scoreboard first for the 11th consecutive game as Carl Soderberg redirected Alex Tanguay's pass up and over the shoulder of Scott Darling. It was Soderberg's seventh goal of the season and his fourth point in his last two games.
Colorado's 11-game streak of scoring first now stands alone as the second longest such stretch in franchise history, breaking a tie with the Quebec Nordiques, who had 10-game run in 1979-80. The 2002-03 Avalanche holds the record at 14 games.
Soderberg's marker gave the Avs the lead for most of the opening period before Artem Anisimov scored with 1:28 left before the intermission.
"I thought we had a good start to the game," Roy said. "We scored a nice power-play goal. I thought our PK was good. I thought we had a good first period."
The Avalanche is outscoring the opposition 15-6 in the first period over the last 11 games, helping the team to a 7-2-2 record.
"It's always great to score the first goal. Usually we win," Soderberg said. "That is one of the keys why we are taking a lot of points lately. So we always want that first goal."
The Avs have scored first in 26 of their 38 contests this season (68.4 percent), the most in the league.