It was a well-battled, tight-checking affair against the St. Louis Blues, just like the last time the two squads met at Pepsi Center on Jan. 6.
And just like the previous outing, 60 minutes of play wasn’t enough to crown the Avs as the victor.
“It was a hard-fought game. I thought it was very entertaining,” head coach Patrick Roy said after the 2-1 shootout win. “I thought it was solid hockey. I was very happy with our performance. I was proud of our players. I thought we played a strong game.”
Stop me if this sounds like Deja-Vu.
Down a goal with the hourglass running out of sand in the third period, Nathan MacKinnon comes up with a game-altering goal to tie the match and force bonus hockey. Although unlike last time, Colorado would require its first shootout of the season to take away those precious two points.
“The guys did an unbelievable job. We scored at the end of the game, tied the game,” netminder Semyon Varlamov said. “Had a chance to score in overtime, but we didn’t score. So the game went into the shootout, and finally we found a way to win.”
The electric finish couldn’t be summarized any better.
After Carl Soderberg had a goal called back due to the ‘intent to blow the whistle’ rule, the Avs surged forth with urgency to tie the match. They stormed the castle during overtime and eventually took the win in the skills competition. Varlamov was better than a brick wall after allowing St. Louis’ lone tally, expertly turning aside a wide-open 2-on-1 chance in the extra frame before stoning all three Blues shooters at the end.
“We stayed focused. That’s the thing I liked about it,” Roy said of the no-goal decision. “We remained focused. It could have been easy to panic and then be pissed off and find a zillion excuses to lose that game. We stuck to it. We kept pushing. We kept pushing, and we didn’t talk too much about it. Those things happen.”
MacKinnon’s clutch marker with 54 seconds remaining and an empty net at the other end of the ice was the exact type of situation that he said makes playing the game worthwhile.
“It feels great, a lot of adrenaline. That’s why you play the game, to feel that kind of emotion and excitement,” the 20-year-old hero said. “That’s what we play for, that feeling. Obviously, we needed at least a point or two and we got two.
“You know what’s at stake. You know you’ve got to bury it. You know, I actually kind of fanned on it, but I had the right line so it didn’t even matter how fast it was going.”
The shootout didn’t come without its own moment of suspense. With the Avs leading after a gorgeous deke from Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog, St. Louis was up next. Vladimir Tarasenko, known for giving goaltenders nightmares, skated in and ripped a shot that Varlamov managed to stop. But the puck kept moving.
Amazingly in tune with the direction it was headed, Varlamov flashed his glove down and over the puck. It seemed like an eternity before he lifted his hand to reveal the location of the vulcanized rubber disc. Although the biscuit had stayed out, it took an official review to verify the otherworldly save.
While manly paused with baited breath, held still by the tension and silent by the anxiety of the play, Varlamov knew that the puck had not crossed the line.
“I knew that was not a goal, but it almost went in,” he said. “It almost crossed the line. That was a scary moment actually because I stopped it and then the puck just started going slowly in the net. I had a chance to stop it with my glove. So it was good.”
Needless to say, the arena erupted in dealing cheers of “Varly! Varly!,” much like the fans had done throughout the night, pouring praise for the Avs and some disapproval of the refs down toward the ice like an avalanche of energy and sound.
“The crowd was involved. They were cheering for us all night long. That was huge, you know,” Varlamov said. “It’s very nice to see when the crowd is cheering, my name especially. Thank you. We have the best fans. They’re always ready. They’re always supporting, and we feel that. We need that support.”
While the glory of the win will linger on, there’s no time for the Avalanche to dwell on the past. The club is already on to the next one, which is Saturday night in Dallas versus the Stars.
“We’re trying to catch as many teams as possible,” MacKinnon said. “Dallas is a few points ahead of us, but [there are] a lot of games left and we feel good as a team right now.”
JOHNSON TO RETURN
Defenseman Erik Johnson didn’t play on Friday night, but he’s expected to be in the lineup on Saturday as the Avs take on the Stars in the second of back-to-back games.
Johnson has been on the ice for roughly 10 days now and took part in some heavy skating both Thursday at Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colorado, and Friday at Pepsi Center.
|Erik Johnson |
“I feel great. Skated hard yesterday, skated hard today,” he said after Friday’s morning session. “I feel really good, ready to get back in there and help the team.”
Johnson was aiming for a return versus his former team, St. Louis, but consultations with the team doctor and the athletic training staff resulted in the planned return on Saturday instead.
“I talked with Patty and the training staff and just decided, coming on a back-to-back, it wouldn’t be the smartest thing to play two games in a row right off the hop—as much I wanted to play tonight,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to think about long term and what’s best for the team and [myself], and that’s tomorrow in Dallas.
“I understand the thought process, and I’ll get ready for tomorrow night, for sure.”
Coach Roy said that the team would reassign 20-year-old blueliner Nikita Zadorov in order to activate Johnson from the injured-reserve list.
“We’re going to send Zadorov back to the minors. He needs to play,” Roy said. “[Chris] Bigras is going to stay a bit, and we’ll see. He played really well tonight.”
Upon his return, Johnson will resume his place on the top pairing with Francois Beauchemin. Bigras will be reunited with Zach Redmond after spending portions of Friday’s contest apart.
“Obviously, E.J. will play with Beauch and then tomorrow night we’ll have Bigras play with Redmond on our third pairing,” Roy said. “It’s a good thing for Z. I thought Z did a lot of good things. We want him to be better with the puck. We felt that he had a bit too many giveaways, and we want him to work at that, at his game. He was better defensively. I think he’s heading in the right direction, and we feel that he needs the time down there to improve his game and continue to learn the game.”
Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov is still scheduled to start the game in Dallas on Saturday, less than 24 hours after defeating the Blues in the shootout on Friday.
“I’m going to go with Varly,” Roy said after the victory.
The coach had previously stated that he intends to have backup Calvin Pickard take the cage at San Jose on Tuesday.
The Avs are playing their sixth back-to-back series of the season, facing the Blues Friday and the Stars Saturday in Dallas. Colorado is 3-2-1 in the first game of a back-to-back this season and 3-2-0 in the second.
The Avalanche will play in four more back-to-back sets this year.