ST. PAUL, Minn. – Matt Duchene didn't score any goals in his return to the Avalanche lineup on Monday night, but the forward was still a factor in Game 6.
In his first game after missing nearly a month with a knee injury, Duchene played 18:52 and assisted on Nick Holden's tying goal in the second period. However, his biggest impact might have been his presence on the ice in Colorado's 5-2 loss to Minnesota.
He didn't register a shot on goal in the game—although he did have three attempts that were blocked or missed—but with his speed and strong play deep in the Wild's zone, Duchene opened up room for his teammates and gave Colorado better looks at scoring chances.
|Matt Duchene |
"He was flying out there," Avs coach Patrick Roy said of Duchene. "He was playing well. He was playing hard, and I had to use him."
Duchene didn't have as high of review of his own play after the game, but that could have just been the feeling of suffering a loss minutes earlier and the high expectations he puts on himself every night. He admitted afterward that he wasn't 100 percent but was good enough to help the team in a postseason contest.
"It went probably the way I expected it to go in terms of how I felt," Duchene said. "There is a long way to go for me, and I have to find it (his game) quick for Game 7."
The center led the team in scoring during the regular season with a career-high 70 points (23 goals and 47 assists) in 71 games, but he missed the final eight games of the season and the first five games of the opening-round series after hurting his knee. He suffered the injury in the first minute of the March 29 game versus San Jose.
The team said he would miss roughly four weeks and last Saturday was the four-week mark since the injury. He started skating again last Monday and took part in his first full morning skate practice on Saturday.
Duchene started the game on the Avs' third line as a center between Brad Malone and Maxime Talbot, but he soon found himself with his old linemates, Ryan O'Reilly and PA Parenteau, before the first period ended.
"Back from injury, we'll take him any time, any shape or form. He's such a good player," Parenteau said. "He was a nice addition with speed and the way he handles the puck down low. I love playing with him, and I thought he looked pretty good tonight."
Roy said he wanted to ease Duchene back into the fold and only play him roughly 10 minutes in the game, but the plan changed when Colorado fell down 2-0 early in the first period.
"You have to readjust and that's what we did," Roy said. "We put him with Factor (O'Reilly) and PA, and I thought he had a great game. "
Duchene has previous chemistry with both players, and the trio was on the ice for Holden's tying goal at 4:47 of the second period. They also had several other good chances during even-strength and power-play situations in the final half of the game but were unable to find the back of the net again.
"We had some good chances," Duchene said. "We could have put it away there on the power play early in the third. It's too bad we couldn't find it, but it's a game of inches and they got the final inch tonight."
The Wild retook the lead late in the third period and added two empty-net goals to pull away for the victory and knot the series at 3-3. The home team has won every game so far in the series.
The series-deciding Game 7 will be Wednesday at Pepsi Center, and Duchene said the team is excited to be playing such an important game in Denver.
"It's all or nothing now. It's win or go home," Duchene said. "It's a great opportunity for a lot of us in here. Great experience. It's a homer series so far, and hopefully it continues to be that way. Our home fans are going to be outstanding, and we can't wait to get back in front of them."