NEW YORK—The Colorado Avalanche knew it wouldn’t be easy and the team knew the New York Rangers were hot, but the Avs skated away with a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night anyway.
Hockey the hard way.
For the second game in a row, the Avs were sound in all areas of the game. They were disciplined, solid defensively, scored more goals than the other team—with secondary production coming from Chris Wagner on the fourth line—and netminder Semyon Varlamov was unstoppable between the pipes.
“I would say, about the team game, the team played very well for me today. They played really strong, I can tell you that,” Varlamov said after win. “We didn’t give up that many scoring chances today, and the Rangers only had the one power play against us. It was a little easier to play, especially [compared to] those teams [that are] dominating the game on the power play. It’s a huge game, huge win—second win in a row. We need a couple wins in a row to get back in a playoff spot.
“It’s very important to play as a team. When the guys are blocking the shots in front of you, it’s huge. The Rangers had a couple of chances in the third period, and then the boys [were] blocking shots in front of the net. It’s nice to see that, the boys battling for the points, for every moment in the game. It’s big.”
The team effort was exactly what brought Colorado the win in New York; everyone was contributing from top to bottom.
“Yeah, that was big,” defenseman Francois Beauchemin said. “We had all five guys collapse down low in the zone, playing some good defense, blocking shots [and] making sure we let each other know where the guys were. I thought we did a good job. Varly made key saves when we needed him to, and it was just a big team win.
“That’s huge for our confidence.”
The contest was oddly similar to that against New Jersey; two Avalanche goals were scored in the middle stanza and the opposing squad could only muster one thanks to Colorado’s defensive play and quality goaltending.
“It’s kind of like last game,” Duchene, who scored the game-winning tally, said after the match. “We got that first one, and then Tyson got the second one. When you go up 2-0 that quick, it’s a really good thing, and we want to just keep it rolling.”
With an early lead and an extra marker to serve as a buffer in both contests, the Avs were free to tighten up and reduce any risk taking that is required to win. The biggest area that benefits from that kind of play is in net, and Varlamov would be the first to tell you how that changes the way a goalkeeper approaches the rest of the game.
“Every goalie feels more confident when their team is scoring first, me included,” the 26-year-old Russian said. “I feel like when we’re scoring first, we’re playing so much better because everybody gets [that] confidence and they play with confidence until the end of the game.”
While the league is talking about the stellar offensive play of Matt Duchene, his defensive contributions—particularly on Thursday—are worth recognizing as well. The ‘Nines Line’ was especially important when called upon in the waning seconds of the night after New York tied the game on a late tally by Oscar Lindberg.
With 45.9 seconds left on the clock and the puck in the Avalanche zone, head coach Patrick Roy used Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. He trusted them to finish out the game, and they did just that.
“Obviously, those are plays we’ve got to have and draws we’ve got to win, and we were able to not lose any clean. That was a big part of keeping the puck out,” Duchene said of the final sequence. “I think we’re doing a lot of good things. Obviously, we’re starting in the offensive zone a lot of the time, which sets us up for success, for sure.
“But when we are in our own end, Gabe’s a great defensive player. Nate, as a young player, is very solid down low. For me, playing wing compared to center, [defense] is a little bit easier, and when I do get down low, I’m a natural centerman. I kind of know what’s going on. I think we’re playing pretty solid. There’s obviously always room for improvement, but a lot of good things [are happening].”
As big as the win against one of the best home teams in the league was for Colorado, the fact that the team has won back-to-back one-goal games is equally important. Not only is that four points in the standings, but it is also a major confidence builder for the club, which is looking to string wins together.
“We had a strong game. Early in the season, for some reason we were finding ways to lose those games, and right now we’re finding ways to win those hockey games,” Roy said. “We were 2-1 in New Jersey and tonight [we had] another 2-1 game. I just feel that we’re managing our game better and better, and that pleases me a lot.”
“It’s huge,” Beauchemin added. “Early in the season, we didn’t win those one-goal games, and finally, we just won a couple in a row.”
According to Roy, this recent stretch of play is an indicator of how well the team has been performing lately.
“It’s good to win on the road. Our road record is pretty good. We’ve been playing some good games, and I’m very happy [with] the way we’ve been playing since the Washington game. I thought in Washington, we didn’t play very well,” he admitted. “I really feel that we’re playing some good hockey.”