It didn't matter how Saturday's matchup at the San Jose Sharks ended for the Colorado Avalanche, it was evident that the visiting club came ready to play.
The Avs were tenacious on the puck, firing shots left and right, playing a physical game and ready to battle for a victory at SAP Center before returning home to Colorado.
Ultimately it took overtime for a champion to be decided, and a bad line change was the difference in the Avalanche's 3-2 loss to the Sharks.
"I have to say I liked the way our team played again tonight. We're starting to get some traction on the way we want our team to play," head coach Jared Bednar said after the contest. "We're not always getting the results. We've talked about it being a fine margin for error for our team right now, especially. We felt we deserved better in our last three games, and tonight those couple mistakes [ended] up in the back of our net. And it wasn't that our goalie played a bad game."
Making his NHL debut, netminder Spencer Martin fulfilled a dream while also giving the Avalanche its best chance to win.
Video: COL@SJS: Martin reaches up and gloves Schlemko's shot
"Biggest game of my life so far. I'll never forget it," Martin said after the loss. "I'm very young and very blessed to play, to get an opportunity like this already at 21. That being said, to me it feels like a long time that I've dreamt about playing in the NHL."
"I thought Spencer Martin was great for us in goal. He looked calm, cool, collected the whole game," Bednar said of the rookie's effort. "But they make a nice play on the power play after a bit of a scramble, and we had the one turnover and we got caught out there a little bit on the 3-on-3 and made a couple bad reads on that last goal. But besides that, pretty good hard-fought game from both teams."
Martin looked steady in his first game and turned aside eight shots in the first period, 10 in the middle frame, seven in the third stanza and two during bonus hockey. Overall Martin was calm, relaxed and played like he'd been there before.
"Those are elite players, and it was really fun to go up against them," he said. "They made some good plays, but we played them really well."
He brought an infusion of life with him, but the Avs were firing on all cylinders for the second-straight game. A first-period letdown in Anaheim aside, the squad has been playing tight, smart, quality hockey.
It's just those little mistakes that cost the club.
"We are coming on. It's discouraging at times because you don't get the results. It's those one or two mistakes you have to find a way to cure, to eliminate them as much as you possibly can," Bednar said. "Make sure you're not making the same mistakes over and over. But we're playing real good hockey against real good teams right now and we're fighting in all the games. We mentioned earlier that we want to make sure we don't have those games where we lay an egg, that we're in every game and we give ourselves a chance to win. We've been doing that here lately, even though we haven't been getting the results."
San Jose took the lead twice on the night and Colorado fought back to force bonus hockey, earning a point and proving that playing the right way can produce results.
"I think we've been playing pretty good. This game, it's one of the best games we've played in a while," Mikhail Grigorenko, who scored the first equalizer, said of the game. "I think 5-on-5 we're clearly the better team."
"What we did tonight is we found a way to make sure that we took it to overtime, and that's important. We got a point," Bednar said. "You look at some of the guys that we've got missing a little bit right now, that's a gutsy road game from our group, especially with some of the things we're going through. That's growth for me, that's progress."
Progression is exactly what the first-year bench manager is looking for, particularly down this stretch of struggles. He wants to see the players coming together, playing the game he's teaching and putting together success in the little areas. In the end, that will result in victories.
However, when it comes to overtime, it really is anyone's game to win.
"I think we're a dangerous team in overtime because you put three guys on the ice," Bednar said. "We've got some weapons there that are real good. Missing [Tyson] Barrie obviously hurt a little bit tonight."
Barrie and Rene Bourque were both sidelined for the second straight game with lower-body injuries, and their absence was certainly felt. Barrie factors heavily in Colorado's 3-on-3 overtime plans, and he could have been a difference maker on Saturday night.
"We know what he can do. That's one area where he's been real good for us. He's dangerous and he makes plays, and he's a defenseman," Bednar said. "We mentioned that even on our way off the ice. That's one area especially where we missed him tonight."
Both players are considered day-to-day and with no practice scheduled for Sunday, evaluations on their health will have to wait until Monday.
Video: Postgame thoughts from coach Jared Bednar
"I thought there was a chance that maybe one or both of them could be in tonight, but they were just unable to go," said Bednar. "That's on the trainers and the players and when they feel good. I'm hoping that those injuries don't linger."
Another question that will be answered on Monday is who will start in net as the Avalanche hosts the Sharks to close out the season series with the Pacific Division club. Bednar admitted that he hadn't decided on Monday's goaltender, and both Pickard and Martin could see time in the near future.
SAN JOSE REUNION
Saturday's matchup at the San Jose Sharks offered a bit of a homecoming for one member of the Colorado Avalanche.
Although the Long Beach native was technically "home" on Wednesday and Thursday when the team was in Anaheim, Matt Nieto's return to SAP Center in San Jose, California, meant a little bit more to the 24-year-old forward.
Nieto was selected by the Sharks in the second round (47th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and played three seasons with the club before Colorado claimed him off waivers on Jan. 5. Saturday's match was the first time he's faced his former organization.
"It's an awesome city, awesome place to live, fun place to play, great fans. As you can see out there tonight, everyone shows up. They're loud," he said of his former home. "A lot of really good friends on that team. Most of those guys I played with for three years. So it's kind of weird being on the other side of it, but we shared a few laughs out there, and it's been fun."
Video: Matt Nieto on returning to California
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound left wing is fond of his time spent with San Jose, but that doesn't make his departure from the club any easier. After being scratched in 15 of his final 18 contests with the Sharks, including eight in a row, Nieto was placed on waivers with the purpose of being sent down to the team's AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.
Instead, Colorado claimed Nieto and tossed him into a top-six forward role. He's played six games with the Avalanche since joining the club, recording one goal and one assist in that span. His first marker of the season came in Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks after captain Gabriel Landeskog made an acrobatic play to force a turnover before feeding Nieto.
"I think he's doing real well. I think a couple things stand out for me; he plays with pace he's always moving his feet, skating. He is gritty for a little guy, goes to the hard areas," head coach Jared Bednar said on Wednesday. "I see him making plays with and without the puck on the offensive side of things and also the defensive side of things. So he's been a nice addition to the team, there's no question about it."