He was the strong, silent type in net, making save after save when called upon, which turned out to be in the final frame.
With the Avs ahead 3-2 entering the last period of play, the visiting Panthers began to surge forth from the depths, showcasing why they’re the top team in the Atlantic Division. They threw everything they had at the Colorado crease, and time after time Pickard was there to make the stop.
“It seemed like a tale of two games. The first two periods, they were really looking for that late guy, and they were really selective on their shots,” the 23-year-old tender said. “Then they came out in the third and literally threw everything at the net. They were buzzing pretty good, but we had some big plays, tying up sticks.
“It’s a huge win for us. We had a couple of really nice goals, and we did what it took to win.”
Florida had just 16 shots through the first two periods, but the Cats added 24 more in the third, equalling the most the Avalanche has ever given up in one period since moving to Denver in 1995-96 (Oct. 15, 1997 at Edmonton).
However, not one of those shots taken found twine as Pickard did everything to keep the lead, setting an Avs record for the most saves in a single period in the process.
“It seemed like there was just a shot, rebound, shot, rebound,” said Pickard before pondering whether he had stopped that many in a period before. “There was a few plays where there was three or four shots in a row, but I don’t know about 24. That’s up there for sure.”
Pickard fell one short of the franchise record for saves in a period, set by Scott Gordon with the Quebec Nordiques on Feb. 4, 1990 versus the Boston Bruins. Nonetheless, everyone was grateful for his outstanding performance.
“They obviously threw the kitchen sink at us there. They had a lot of shots,” said forward Mikkel Boedker, who put Colorado up 2-1 in the first period. “Picks stood tall in there, so that was really good.”
“Obviously, we’d like to avoid that, but Picks is a gamer,” defenseman Tyson Barrie added. “He can handle it. He loves the pressure. We’re confident with him in there, and it was a huge win for us. Obviously, we’d like to eliminate some of the shots in the third, and we’ll address that.”
The puck didn’t just stop there with the Moncton, New Brunswick, native. Pickard also recorded his first career assist when he helped the Avalanche open the scoring.
The goalie stopped a successful Panthers clearing attempt behind the net and left the puck for Barrie. The rear guard paused, allowing the play to develop, before he fed Gabriel Landeskog, who split three defenders and buried the puck behind Roberto Luongo.
Pickard, who has five assists in 163 regular-season AHL games, played so well that head coach Patrick Roy said he doesn’t have an easy decision when it comes to Saturday’s starting backstopper.
“The way he played tonight, I guess it’s going to be a tough call to go a different way. I’m going to take some time,” Roy said after the win. “The thing that I like about him is his swagger. He seems very confident right now in front of the net. He looks big, and he’s moving well. I love that intensity that he’s bringing and the compete level that he’s bringing on the ice.”
All of the Avalanche’s scoring came in the first two periods of Thursday’s contest. Boedker recorded a nice goal later in the opening frame, catching a Barrie pass with his skate before stopping the puck into the net. In the second, Matt Duchene spun off a defender, brought the puck through another’s stick and then finished to pot the eventual game-winner.
The marker was Duchene’s team-high 27th of the 2015-16 campaign, and it ties his career best set in 2010-11. It was also the young center’s fifth game-deciding tally.
“Matt’s goal was unreal, highlight reel,” Boedker said of the play. “He’s known for that stuff, and he just proved that once again. That was a big goal for us, and we stayed the course, so that was important.”
Boedker now has two points (one goal, one assist) in his first two games with Colorado.
“Boeds is incredibly skilled, a great skater,” Barrie said of the new face. “He sees the ice well. He’s a great addition, seems like a great guy. We’re lucky to have him, and he’s going to be big for us down the stretch.”
While Roy said he was pleased with the first 40 minutes of play, he admitted the final 20 was an area that needed work.
“I thought we had two solid periods, the first and the second. I thought we played really well. We killed two penalties. We had some good chances offensively. I thought we played a strong game,” he said. “Obviously, in the third it was the total opposite. They started to put more pressure at us. They forechecked us more, and for some reason we didn’t play as well as we did in the first two periods. But Picks was phenomenal in that stretch. He made some key saves.
“For some reason, we lost the momentum and we had a hard time to get that momentum back. When things are going wrong, we just can’t stop the bleeding, and that's a thing we need to learn how to do, slow down the game. I guess our guys are learning.”
Despite the third period, the win was paramount in keeping Colorado in the playoff conversation. The club trails the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild for the final two postseason berths and plays the Predators on Saturday in the second contest of this four-game stretch in Denver.
“It’s huge. This is an absolutely massive homestand for us, and we know we’ve got Nashville coming in,” Barrie said. “We’re chasing them, and Minny’s right there with us. From here on out, it’s playoff hockey. The guys in the room today, it felt like a playoff game. Guys prepared as if it was one, so it will be the same way [for] Nashville.”
“We need to get hot here, and we’re just taking it one game at a time,” Pickard added.