Since early January, goaltender Jose Theodore has been the fuel that’s lit the Avalanche’s fire.
Things were no different Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, as the netminder stopped 38 shots to lead the Avalanche to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild in Game Five of their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series.
Colorado, which took a 3-2 series lead with the victory, can advance to the Western Conference Semifinals with a victory Saturday in Game Six at Pepsi Center.
“I’m just concentrating on doing my job,” said Theodore, who played in his 42nd career playoff game Thursday night. “We knew they were going to come out hard and they did, but we didn’t panic and showed a lot of character. I’m really proud of how we played in the third period.”
Each team recorded a power-play tally in the first period.
Andrew Brunette opened the scoring at 12:24 on his team-best third goal of the series. Milan Hejduk
took a pass from Peter Forsberg and put a shot on goal from the left circle. Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom made the initial save, but couldn’t recover in time to stop Brunette from shelving the rebound.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard answered with 39.3 seconds remaining in the opening period on his second goal of the series. Bouchard was the beneficiary of a Brent Burns cross-ice pass, one-timing the defenseman’s feed past Theodore from the right circle.
After making 16 saves in the opening frame, Theodore stopped all 15 shots he faced in a scoreless second stanza.
A sampling of Theodore’s performance in the middle frame included point-blank stops on both Marian Gaborik and Todd Fedoruk.
Gaborik – the Wild’s leading scorer in the regular season – looked like he might net his first goal of the postseason nine minutes into period. The forward received a touch pass at the goalmouth and had a seemingly open net, but Theodore stretched his left pad out to make a stop.
Fedoruk also had a scoring opportunity minutes later after Gaborik missed the net on a shot from the top of the right circle. The puck hit the end boards and bounced back in front of the goal, where Fedoruk pounced on it with an open net in front of him. But Theodore fired out his left leg and stopped the puck before Fedoruk could put it over the goal line.
Theodore wasn’t nearly as busy in the third period, but managed to stop seven of the eight shots he faced.
Wojtek Wolski made it a 2-1 game at 5:06, one-timing a nifty cross-ice feed from John-Michael Liles past Backstrom. The goal, which came on an Avalanche power play, was the second in as many games for Wolski.Paul Stastny
added his first-ever playoff goal at 6:25 after corralling a pass from Milan Hejduk
and flipping a backhand attempt over Backstrom to give Colorado a 3-1 lead.
Stastny’s goal turned out to be a big one, as Minnesota’s Brian Rolston scored with 2.5 seconds left in the game to account for the 3-2 final score.
As the statistics will tell you, scoring the game’s first goal can be a huge advantage. The Avs were 30-4-3 in the regular season when striking first and have now notched the first tally in each game of the Western Conference Quarterfinals while taking a 3-2 advantage in the series.
Tonight, for the third straight contest, it was Avalanche assistant captain Andrew Brunette who opened the scoring with a first-period tally. In 38 career playoff contests, Brunette has totaled 14 goals and 17 assists.
The Avalanche’s power play unit came through in a big way Thursday, netting two goals in three opportunities. Colorado’s power play has been especially efficient on the road during the Western Conference Quarterfinals, scoring on 4-of-8 chances (50.0%). Overall in the postseason, the Avs are 6-for-27 (22.2%) with a man advantage.
If you’re a big believer in trends, Colorado’s Game Five victory has to be music to your ears. According to Elias Sports Bureau, when a best-of-seven postseason series is tied at 2-2, the Game Five victor has gone on to win the series 158-of-196 times (80.6%).
This series marks the 11th time that Colorado has been tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven series since moving to Denver in 1996. The Avs have gone on to win seven of those previous 10 series.
The Avs, who were down 2-1 in this series, have rallied back from a 2-1 deficit three times since 1996, most recently in 2002 against San Jose in the second round.