In a league where tight checking and close games have become part of the norm, it might seem a bit odd that the Colorado Avalanche has only played in two overtime contests this season.
The Avs got their second taste of the new 3-on-3 extra-time format on Monday night and came out with a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center.
It's been a long time since Colorado last played in overtime, and the club's only other contest to go past regulation was on Oct. 21 against Carolina. The Avalanche fell 1-0 that night after the Hurricanes' Victor Rask powered his way to the front of the net and scored on a backhand.
"It's hard," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog of the redesigned overtime. "You try and hold onto the puck for as long as possible, and you want to create some scoring chances as well. Then somewhere in between you got to be able to change and get fresh guys on the ice."
Monday's OT was pretty typical of what the period has been like this year in the NHL with teams trading chances before one delivers a knockout blow. John Mitchell delivered it for the Avalanche as he tallied 3:35 into the extra session, just as it seemed like something had to give with both clubs' players' energy seeming to wane.
Mitchell's sixth goal of the year came on a nice give-and-go play with Matt Duchene.
"Dutchy brought a guy up to him (high in the zone)," Mitchell said. "[A Wild player] kind of bit on him and he just passed it down low, and I just tried to get to the middle of the ice as quick as I could and shoot it high glove."
Once he regained possession of the puck from Duchene, Mitchell held onto it just long enough to get Minnesota goaltender Darcy Kuemper to fall to the ice, opening up space high in the cage.
"You want to come out and try and get a little pump fake or get somebody reaching or biting," Mitchell said of his first career overtime goal. "I came out, tried to do that and it freed me up in the middle of the ice. I'll take a shot in-between the hash marks any day of the week."
With only 33 combined shots through regulation, there were nearly as many shots between the two clubs in the 3:35 of overtime as there was in the some of the full periods. Colorado had a 4-3 shots advantage in the extra frame after only 10 total shots were mustered in both the first and third periods.
"There is just so much room on the ice," Mitchell said of playing 3-on-3. "I think you just have to make one move or get somebody out of position and you're going to have a lot of open space and odd-man rushes."
There weren't many 1-on-1 chances for both clubs in the OT period, especially for the Wild as the Avalanche did a good job of backchecking hard to prevent breakaways and thwart any odd-man rushes.
Colorado played solid defensively all game as the Wild finished with only 20 shots on goal on 47 attempts.
"It was a really hard-fought game," Avs head coach Patrick Roy said. "I was really pleased with how we played defensively. We had to bounce back with a performance like this, and I thought it was playoff hockey. Everyone had to fight for an inch of space out there and battle, and that is the type of game I wanted to see from my team. They did a good job."
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov finished with 19 saves and made the key ones when he had to in overtime, deflecting Ryan Suter's attempt wide just 31 seconds into the stanza and then stopping two Zach Parise chances about a minute before Mitchell's winner.
"It's a big difference between 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, I can tell because of lots of open ice, and the guys, every 20 seconds, every 30 seconds, they create some chances around the net," Varlamov said. "That's why you have to stay focused every time and keep battling."
The victory was the Avs' fourth in the last six games and also just their fourth on home ice this season. Picking up wins at Pepsi Center has been a point of emphasis for the club in recent weeks, especially given the fact that the team has played the fewest contests in its own building in the league.
"We want to be better on home ice. Getting a win tonight is a start," Mitchell said. "We're back here Wednesday. We need to enjoy this win but get right back at it."
Colorado improves to 4-2 when facing Central Division teams this season and can better that mark even more after Wednesday's contest against Pittsburgh as the Avs go back on the road for three games versus divisional foes Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago.
MARTINSEN RETURNS TO THE LINEUP
Andreas Martinsen re-entered the lineup Monday night after being a healthy scratch for the past two games. He took John Mitchell's old spot on the left wing with Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau. Mitchell moved to center with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla.
Mikhail Grigorenko, who had centered Tanguay and Iginla, was a healthy scratch along 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 [on Saturday]," head coach Patrick Roy said after Monday's 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."
Martinsen finished with two shots, a blocked shot and a hit in a season-high 14:38 of ice time.
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
•Semyon Varlamov appeared in his 225th game as a member of the Avalanche, tying Dan Bouchard for third place on the franchise's games-played list…He now trails only Patrick Roy (478) and Peter Budaj (242).
•Varlamov is 2-1-0 in his last three starts with a 1.31 GAA and .955 Sv% (183 minutes, 88 shots, 4 goals).
•Matt Duchene’s assist tonight was the 203rd of his career, tying Adam Foote for 12th place on the franchise's all-time assist list.