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Avs Rewarded For Strong Effort

Solid play and the first goal was all Colorado needed

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

It's no secret that the Colorado Avalanche has struggled to score the first goal of the game this season, but the team did it on Saturday, and it was enough to beat the visiting Minnesota Wild 1-0.

"Goals are not coming easy for us," head coach Bednar said after the victory.

The Avs have indeed had a hard time finding the back of the net at all lately, with just two markers in the last three contests to show for their efforts. That isn't to say they haven't been playing well. They have, but the wins--and goals--just haven't been coming.

But Colorado has stuck to the process and style of play that Bednar wants to see, and the squad was rewarded for it in a hard-fought victory a rare matinee game at Pepsi Center.

Video: Coach Jared Bednar on the Avs' win over the Wild

"It didn't come easy for us, that's for sure. Again, like Chicago, I thought we did a lot of good things," Bednar said. "We did some things where we had some breakdowns and needed a save, but I think our guys stuck with it. [They] stuck with it and kept working hard and our compete level was where it needed it to be from all our guys. I don't think we had any passengers tonight. We come up with a big power-play goal and end up winning the game 1-0."

The lone marker came during a third-period man-advantage moment. Up to that point, Minnesota's top-ranked penalty kill had shut down every chance it had faced on the road, allowing zero tallies to opposing squads. Yet the Avs persisted and found twine when captain Gabriel Landeskog drove the net and buried a soft pass from Matt Duchene.

"Dutchy made an excellent pass to me, just kind of getting over to shooter's stick," Landeskog said of the play. "I was just trying to get it off quick."

Rookie forward Mikko Rantanen picked up his first NHL point on the play.

Video: Gabriel Landeskog on defeating the Wild

"Mikko did a great job on the half-wall of kind of settling the play down and backing their penalty killers off a little bit," Landeskog said. "Then he gave it down to Dutchy."

While Rantanen was certainly happy to finally find the scoresheet, getting two points as a team was far more satisfying for him.

"It's good to get the first one. It has been coming the last couple games," the 20-year-old Finn said. "We had a lot of chances. It just couldn't go in. But tonight we got the power play, and we got the big goal there. It of course feels good, but…the team win and two points for the team, that's the biggest thing."

Rantanen has played five games with the Avs this season, and although he started the campaign late due to an ankle injury suffered on Sept. 17, he feels like he's been playing well.

"I think I have played pretty good," he said. "I played with my strengths. We created a lot of chances, but we just couldn't score the last couple games. Of course, you try to help the team win, so that's why tonight was a good game."

Video: Rantanen talks first NHL point

As a team, Colorado has talked about the need for better starts. The club wanted less deficits and to open the scoring more, as playing with a lead is easier than trying to catch up.

Needless to say, Saturday's opening goal and overall win was a just reward for the effort the players put in.

"It was big. We've talked about that as of late. We haven't gotten the first goal. Any team is a better team with the lead," Landeskog said. "When you do get the first one, it seems like you can keep pushing and you can kind of drive the game where you want it instead of kind of having to chase it. Especially if you go down two goals, it's an uphill battle. For us, I think we stayed patient with it all night, and we did a good job of taking care of the pucks better than we have the last couple games. And everybody was going. Obviously, [Calvin Pickard] made some big saves that kept us in there, and [we] got a couple lucky bounces there at the end with a post and things like that, but it's a good overall team win."

"We talked about it after the Chicago game," Rantanen added. "We have to get the first goal in the game. That's what makes us work better, like we played against Chicago. [Corey] Crawford had 38 saves, so that's a shot mentality. You should win the game, but we were unlucky there and Crawford was pretty good. Today was a good 60 minutes for us and a good goal at the end."

The majority of the match was a goaltending duel, as Minnesota tender Devan Dubnyk and Pickard traded save after save to keep the score deadlocked at 0-0. Pickard was resolute in his third start of the year, turning aside 32 shots for his second NHL shutout and his first of the year.

Video: Calvin Pickard makes 32 saves in a shutout

"I thought we played a really good game all the way through," the goalie said. "Dubnyk was playing really well. I knew I had to limit my mistakes. Goals were hard to come by. We were doing all the right things, we just couldn't score. Going into the third, I knew we were going to get one. We were really pressing. We were urgent in the third, kind of took our game to the next level. I think we only gave up four or five shots, which was nice. We got that big power-play goal, stepped up. PK was huge, and it's a big win against a divisional opponent.

"We knew we had to make this a big game for us against a good rival. We couldn't let another game slip away from us. So 0-0 going into the third, you could tell in the third period we took the next step and really played urgent. It's a big win."

After the victory, Bednar put to rest any whispers of a brewing goaltender controversy when he said that Semyon Varlamov would get the start on Sunday in St. Louis in the thrilling conclusion of Colorado's third back-to-back set this season.

"We're kind of setting our goalie plan week-to-week. Because of the history of the situation, Varly is getting a good opportunity early here. We're not setting the schedule month-by-month or season-long," Bednar said. "We're looking at it week-to-week, and we're getting to a point where we went into this week and we said 'we're going to go Varly and Picks and back to Varly.' We want to play a rested goalie in back-to-backs because we believe in both of them. Then we'll get to a point where we need results…and maybe we can ride a hot goalie for a little bit and see how it goes.

"It was the plan going into the week to play Picks."

The Avs return to action on Sunday with a 3 p.m. matinee at the St. Louis Blues.

 

NO. 12 HITS 19TH PLACE

Jarome Iginla tied Rod Brind'Amour (1,484) for 19th place on the NHL's all-time games-played list when he took the ice on Saturday at Pepsi Center.

The veteran Avalanche forward is also ranked 16th in the all-time goal-scoring annals (613), just 12 markers behind Joe Sakic (625) for 15th. Iginla's tallies place him second among active players as only Jaromir Jagr (750) has more.

Although he managed to stay out of the sin bin against Minnesota, Iginla does have 997 penalty minutes to his name after 19 seasons of NHL hockey. With three more minutes spent in the box, he would become only the ninth player in league history to reach 600 goals and 1,000 minutes of penalty time.

  

HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER

Saturday was the Colorado Avalanche's annual Hockey Fights Cancer day, an initiative supported by the NHLPA and all 30 NHL teams. Not only did Pepsi Center feature lavender lighting, both inside and out, and lavender-branded boards, but the Avs also took warmup in special Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys, which will be auctioned on ColoradoAvalanche.com.

On top of this, a variety of other items highlighted the special day:

Av For A Day

 Six-year-old Kolton Platt was brought out to be the Av For A Day at Pepsi Center. Diagnosed with Leukemia nearly one year ago, Platt is currently undergoing treatment at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, the sponsor of the Av for a Day program. Kolton met the team for pictures and autographs prior to the game, received a team gift bag, participated in a behind-the-scenes tour of Pepsi Center, had brunch at the Peak Pub and sat in glass seats, provided by Eddie's Kids Foundation.

Youth Skater

Ten-year-old Keegan O'Connell, who plays for the Northern Colorado Eagles, skated in honor of his grandfather who battled cancer for many years.

Ceremonial Faceoff

Kendall Elliott, a 56-year-old retired sheriff from Larimer Country who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 and has been battling the disease ever since, delivered the game's ceremonial puck drop prior to the start of the match. Joined on the ice by his wife and one of two daughters, Elliott was featured in a special video where he discussed his diagnosis and subsequent battle with cancer. He was then surprised by the arrival of his other daughter, who was flown in from college to join him at the game.

Glow Stick Ceremony

At the start of the first intermission, fans participated in a special glow stick ceremony to represent the fight against all cancers. Patients currently receiving treatment at UCHealth were featured on a live feed at Pepsi Center and cracked their glow sticks in unison with fans at the arena as a part of the ceremony.

Photo Station

Avalanche fans had the opportunity to fill out "I Fight For" placards on the concourse at section 144 and take a photo with the placards at the UCHealth-sponsored digital photo station. Photos were then shared socially and via email. Members of the Avalanche also held placards showing who they're fighting for. Both sets of images were later featured in video that aired during the third period.

Video: We're stronger together

Landy's Friends

Avalanche Captain Gabe Landeskog hosted three families from the 2016 Avalanche Charity Brunch who have been affected by cancer. These special guests watched the game from a catered suite and received gift bags from Landeskog.

Hockey Fights Cancer Donation

On behalf of the NHL/NHLPA, the Avalanche donated $2,500 toward the Patient Financial Assistance Funds at UCHealth hospitals and $2,500 to Rocky Mountain Children's Health Foundation, both in support of activities and programs for cancer patients.

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