The Colorado Avalanche didn’t quite get the start it wanted on the recent four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference, but it certainly closed the series out in fine fashion, stringing together the club’s first pair of consecutive wins this season with a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
“We weren’t happy after the [New York] Islanders game. I’m sure nobody was. I know our fans like to see us win, and there’s nothing more that we like to do than win for them,” said Erik Johnson on Altitude TV following the win. “We take it harder than anybody. After that one, we had to do a little bit of gut checking and put in two in a row here to turn it into a decent road trip. To start 0-2 in a hole, that’s a tough one to crawl out of, but we salvaged .500. That’s a testament to the group.”
Riding high after a 4-3 shootout victory over the Stanley Cup runner-up New York Rangers, the Avs looked to continue that success in New Jersey. The Devils had other plans, kicking off the scoring in the first period at home at the Prudential Center.
Martin Havlat got his team on the board early, hammering home a rebound to beat Semyon Varlamov for the first of the night.
The lead was short lived though, as John Mitchell got the equalizer from atop the New Jersey crease. He caught a pass from Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and flipped the biscuit up and into the twine behind Cory Schneider.
“Our guys are competing really well in our practices, and that’s a thing we’ve been doing a lot lately. Lots of 1-on-1’s, 2-on-2’s, and I think it shows in our game,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “When you start doing good on your 1-on-1 battles or 2-on-2’s and you start generating some offense, obviously it brings a lot of confidence in your game as well.”
From there, the game became a chess match, each side trading moves while looking for that elusive second goal. Neither wanted to give up a chance, and it held into the third period on the strength of solid goaltending from both Varlamov and Schneider.
The Devils looked to get the go-ahead tally at the 8:21 mark of the final frame after a top-shelf blast from Eric Gelinas at the point went through traffic at the faceoff dot and behind Varlamov, who never saw the shot coming.
The Avs weren’t ready to lie down and battled back into the game with the kind of mental fortitude that typified the majority of last season.
The visiting squad tied the game back up with less than eight minutes left in the third period on a goal from rear guard Erik Johnson. Johnson was a force in the final 10 minutes of the night, playing both ends of the ice with a seemingly unrelenting fervor. Catching a pass from Tyson Barrie, Johnson skated into the Devils zone, took the puck down toward the bottom of the faceoff circle and let a wrister fly at the New Jersey net.
The tough-angle shot squeezed through Scneider’s padding and landed in the blue paint behind him before rolling into the goal.
“E.J.’s been outstanding for us. He’s been probably one of our better players all year,” said Roy. “Came down the wing and sometimes you just put pucks on net and good things happen. Fortunately for us something good happened there.”
Matt Duchene put the game away less than five minutes later when he hammered home his own rebound, giving Colorado its first and only lead of the night, completing the Avalanche’s second comeback in as many contests. The tally came after a dominating shift from Duchehe, Alex Tanguay and Barrie, whose shot on goal caromed over to Duchene for the first attempt.
“That’s twice. Last game in New York, we were down going into the third… and we tied the game and tonight we did the same thing,” said Roy. “Except tonight we scored the winning goal before the shootout or overtime.”
The game was far from over at that point, but strong penalty killing during a late 6-on-4 opportunity for the Devils and smart netminding from Varlamov brought home the win.
Varlamov stopped 23 shots on the night, including 11 in the final stanza, capping off an effort that Roy hopes to carry over to Thursday night’s matchup against the Washington Capitals at Pepsi Center.
“I liked our game in Philly. I thought we played good in Philly. Obviously, Long Island was different. I thought we had a really good road trip, played .500 hockey,” said Roy. “Sometimes you like to be a little bit better than this, but if you’re looking at the teams we played against, we’re very happy with those last two wins, and hopefully we can build on that for the next game at home against Washington.”
Erik Johnson The Minutes Monster
Defense - COL
Goals: 3 | Assists: 8 | Pts: 11
Shots: 43 | +/-: 2
Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson
set a career best in New Jersey, playing a team-high 30:25 in the win. His ice time was nearly six full minutes more than the next nearest Avalanche player, Jan Hejda
, who was Johnson’s partner for the majority of the match, and was more than six minutes longer than the nearest Devils player, Damon Severson.
“Pete, I loved it. I’m better when I play more. I’m into the game more,” Johnson said in a postgame interview with Altitude TV analyst Peter McNab. “After last season, Patrick and Andre [Tourigny]—our defensive coach—wanted to get me in a little bit different kind of shape. They knew I was in good shape coming into camp last year, but they wanted me to be ready to play more minutes and handle a heavier load.
“I just feel a lot better on the ice. It’s fun going out there and being able to play like that and not have it feel like 30. It felt like 24, 25. That’s a lot of fun to play like that, and to get a win, it’s even better.”