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Pickard Playing Best Hockey Of Young Career

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

One thing hockey fans can count on when the Colorado Avalanche faces off against the Chicago Blackhawks is an exciting, action packed game. That’s what happens when two swift, finesse-laden teams clash, and Wednesday night in Denver was no different.

In a Thanksgiving-eve matchup between two divisional foes, there was hitting, scoring and ultimately some quality hockey. While the visiting team eked out a 3-2 win over the Avalanche in regulation, the contest came down to the wire and signaled that the Avs can skate with the best of them.

It was one of those nights where a player needed to take charge, much in the way that captain Gabriel Landeskog and his line had the previous two games. That guy was goaltender Calvin Pickard, who was an avalanche in his own right between the red pipes.

In his first official start since Oct. 18 in Montreal, Pickard was at the top of his game, playing the best hockey of his young career. He firmly kept his club in the match for the duration, turning aside 42 shots, including a diving-back paddle save on Marian Hossa, single-handedly knocking the puck off of the goal line and out of the crease to keep a third period tie.

“You look at the amount of shots that they had and the chances they had. He stood on his head tonight, and he did give us a great opportunity to win the game,” said forward Ryan O'Reilly after the loss. “He’s been phenomenal for us, and a huge reason why we won the last few games.”

That kind of dependable effort is something that the Avs have come to rely on Pickard for. The 22-year-old goalie had entered both of Colorado’s two previous contests in a relief role in the first period and shut the opposing team down while allowing the Avs to mount two comebacks.

While many would expect his mindset to be different when knowing he’s going to be the starting netminder, Pickard doesn’t see much of an adjustment.

Said Pickard: “I don’t think so. When I’m coming into the game like last night, I just try and be sharp, and be in position for those first few shots and get the feel for it and same thing tonight. Going into warmup, you have that mindset that you’re starting the game, but it’s no different.”

Chicago is a perennial powerhouse and Pickard knew that he’d have his work cut out for him.

“Playing against that team, they have a lot of skill, so I knew I was going to be called upon to make some saves. They’re going to have chances against any team,” said Pickard. “I thought we played pretty well, but they capitalized on a couple power plays in the second period, and that’s the difference.”

Colorado entered the evening with the third best penalty killing success in the entire NHL—and the best on home ice—but special teams would play a big role in the Avalanche’s defeat as Chicago put away two of its three goals while on the man advantage.

The Avs got on the board first in this one, with hard work from Cody McLeod, Marc-Andre Cliche and Maxime Talbot down low in the Chicago zone during the second period. Cliche fed Talbot a behind-the-back pass from below the goal line and Talbot buried his chance, giving the club a major boost against the Hawks.

Chicago responded in kind less than five minutes later with the first of the two power-play goals. Jonathan Toews poked home a puck that trickled through Pickard and into the blue paint, breathing life into a voracious offensive assault. Andrew Shaw got the next power-play point just over three minutes later, beating Pickard while Nick Holden watched from the sin bin.

“It’s kind of funny how this game goes sometimes,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “The last few games we give maybe one or no power plays, and tonight we gave them five in 33 minutes and that’s all they needed to score those two goals.”

The tallies ended Pickard’s running shutout streak at 147:24.

While the Avs were down, they weren’t out, and the home team continued to fight back into the final frame.

“You can tell we had a better feel going into the third. We [were] excited. We [were] confident,” said O’Reilly. “There was a lot of talk, communication going on, which in previous times we haven’t had that. It’s definitely a learning piece for us that’ll give us a lot of confidence going forward.”

O’Reilly got the equalizer less than four minutes into the frame when he pulled a rebound out from under Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford and dished it into the net on a backhand try. The stalemate ended with less than six minutes in the contest when Bryan Bickell buried a chance for the eventual game-winner.

“It was exciting. A really good game for the fans to see. It was back and forth. We played well. They played well,” said Pickard. “The guys in the locker room here did a great job tonight, and it was just tough in the end that they squeaked one in there with five minutes left.”

The Avalanche returns to action on Saturday when it faces the Dallas Stars at Pepsi Center.

The Injury List Grows Longer

The Avalanche received bad news prior to tonight’s contest, as defenseman Erik Johnson (head) was unable to play in the game. Johnson is averaging 23:37 of ice time per night, which is over two minutes more than the next closest player, Jan Hejda, who is Johnson’s defensive partner.

Erik Johnson
Defense  - COL
Goals: 4 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 13
Shots: 52 | +/-: 2

Johnson joins an overcrowded list of wounded Avalanche players, which includes Patrick Bordeleau (back), Dennis Everberg (shoulder), Jame McGinn (back), John Mitchell (leg), Brad Stuart (hamstring), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Ryan Wilson (shoulder) and Jesse Winchester (head).

“All the way through he lineup, we had a great effort,” Pickard said of the team’s play. “We might have been undermanned, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”

Nor did they use it as an excuse.

“We played well. I liked our compete level,” said Roy. “For back-to-back games where they were waiting for us, with 10 injured players, our players certainly deserve a lot of credit for that performance.”

According to Roy, Johnson shouldn’t be out of the lineup for very long, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

“He’s doing good. Hope that he’ll be ready for Saturday against Dallas,” said Roy after tonight’s match. “It’ll be a day-to-day situation for him.”

Alex Tanguay returned to the lineup for Colorado, just two games and four days after fracturing his face after an Alex Ovechkin shot caught him high.

Rear guard Karl Stollery was a precautionary call-up earlier in the day and quickly found himself in the lineup against Chicago. He finished his season debut plus-1 with one shot, one hit and three blocked shots in 12:29 of play.

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