That was the way a solid night for the Colorado Avalanche finished when Columbus Blue Jackets rear guard David Savard’s shot was tipped past netminder Semyon Varlamov with 1:01 left in the contest.
“Overall, it’s not a bad game for us, but when they score in the last little bit, those hurt. Those hurt, for sure,” Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla said of the 4-3 loss. “We’ve been on the other side when you get those, and when you’re just before getting one point and [having] a chance to go to OT, there’s no question those sting.
“What hurts the most is, every time you lose you feel like ‘oh man, we didn’t do enough,’ and tonight we were [there]. One more minute. You get it to there, and I like my chances. There [are] areas we could improve on, for sure, but we still did some good things and that’s what stings right now.”
A strong start to the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night was what the Colorado was looking for and, in a sense, that’s what the home club got.
With the Blue Jackets playing in the second of back-to-back contests this weekend, the Avalanche wanted to come out and get an early lead. Iginla, one of a few veteran forwards on the club, did just that for his squad when he intercepted a juicy, cross-zone pass from Savard.
All alone, goaltender Curtis McElhinney and him in the immediate area, Iginla skated in on the net and blasted a wrist shot past McElhiney and in between the deep red posts.
“Opening shift, they had a neutral zone regroup, and there was two guys. They had a centerman going through the middle and then a guy wide,” Iginla said of the play. “I was hoping that I read it right, that he was going to pass it wide, and fortunately I did. Those are what you’re hoping for, and I was happy to see it go in at that point. You’re always excited to be able to score on the first shift.”
Colorado’s aggressiveness at the start of the period was soon tempered by a Blue Jackets squad that knows a thing or two about digging deep to find the motivation to stay in the game—the visiting club entered the night with 237 man-games lost to injury and yet is still in the hunt, like the Avs, for a playoff berth.
Columbus retaliated at the 11:35 mark of the period, converting moments after its league-best power play was snuffed by the Avs. Down along the half-boards with the puck on his blade, defenseman Cody Goloubef launched an airborne pass to the high slot where Jedi forward Brandon Dubinsky redirected it—still mid-flight—behind Varlamov to tie the match.
“Obviously, we got off to a really good start. That’s what you’re hoping for. Then they took it back probably for the rest of the first,” said Iginla. “They played well. I think they were the best team in the NHL in December, and we weren’t thinking they’d be an easy game because they had a back-to-back. We expected them—they had a tough game last night—to bounce back, and they did that.”
Dubinsky was at it again just over a minute and a half into the second period, beating Varlamov with a shot high on the far side after catching the puck off a crazy bounce in the corner that sprung him into open ice.
In a brilliant display of strength and skill, Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog returned the favor roughly four minutes later. With Savard attempting to clear the puck from the Columbus zone, Landeskog used his body to drive along the boards, stopping the attempt and scooping the biscuit forward along with his momentum. He then drove the net, deked McElhinney, and finished the play off with a backhanded flourish that snuggled the puck up into the back of the net.
Each squad traded goals once more in the middle stanza. Columbus got a nod from Ryan Johansen on a tic-tac-toe play from Scott Hartnell and Nick Foligno, and the Avs tallied after a Cody McLeod wraparound try caromed off of Savard and through McIlhinney to find twine.
An even score leveled the field for an equally matched third period that just didn’t finish the way the Avalanche had hoped.
“Even in the third, I thought we played. We had some chances that could have went [in]. I had some more. We all had some more. Dutch hit the post tonight,” said Iginla of the game. “But saying that, we know when you get that late in the game [when] tied, we want to at least get that one point, especially with the skill level of the guys.”
“We played very well in the third period. We had a lot of chances to score. We just didn’t score,” Varlamov agreed. “That goal at the end of the game, that was bad luck.”
While Colorado head coach Patrick Roy wasn’t entirely displeased with the effort on the night, he certainly said he wasn’t thrilled with the club losing another close game without managing a point.
“Obviously, we should be disappointed and I am disappointed because, one minute left in the game, this is a game we need to bring into overtime,” he said. “That’s happened one too many times this year, especially at home.
“We cannot say it’s bad luck. They put a puck on net and they scored. Still, offensively on that play, I thought we could have done a better job of having a little more, different type of pressure.”
Roy said he liked his squad’s effort for approximately 34 minutes of the hour-long contest, but giving up an 11-3 shot advantage in the first period after scoring early was not among the night’s list of successes.
“We put pressure on them. That was part of our game plan. We wanted to put pressure on their ‘D.’ We wanted to have a great forecheck, and we scored our first goal on a great forecheck,” he said. “Sometimes we have a tendency to not continue, and we let them take over and then they had a good first.”
The Avalanche had its chances on Sunday, including on a breakaway in the middle frame when Alex Tanguay heard the screaming ping of the post after his shot found metal and not mesh. Yet the final equalizer remained elusive at the end.
Colorado returns to action Tuesday, looking for revenge in the Windy City during a one-game road matchup with the Blackhawks.