Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said earlier in the week that he was leaning toward giving Calvin Pickard the start in net on Friday at Detroit for the second half of the team's back-to-back set. While Pickard very well could have played an outstanding game, Roy likely made the right decision when he put Semyon Varlamov back between the posts for a second consecutive night.
Varlamov made a season-high 43 saves through overtime and added three more in the shootout to lead the Avs to a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
Colorado has now won the first two contests of a three-game road trip that concludes Sunday afternoon in Buffalo. Varlamov made 26 saves in a 4-3 defeat of the Ottawa Senators on Thursday to end a four-game losing streak for the team.
"He was phenomenal for us," Roy said of his goaltender. "It's not an easy back-to-back game. We got in late last night, I'm not looking for excuses here, but [Detroit] is a good puck possession team here. This is a very good hockey team, and we needed our goalie to be our best player to have a chance to win and he was by far our best player. It allowed us to stay in the game and gave us a chance to win in the shootout."
The Red Wings outshot the Avalanche 45-21 and battled back each time Colorado took the lead. Jonathan Ericsson scored on a deflection and Pavel Datsyuk tallied on the power play for Detroit in regulation.
Roy didn't sugarcoat the win after game. Colorado took two points from the home team on this night.
"They dominated us. No doubt about it," Roy said. "They played a good game. You could tell they were a confident team tonight... It was important for us to just find a way."
And the Avalanche did.
Matt Duchene finished a great pass by Mikhail Grigorenko to give the Avs a 1-0 lead 9:27 into the contest, and Blake Comeau's shot trickled past Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek early in the second period to put Colorado up 2-1.
Only Datsyuk's shot got by Varlamov in the four-round shootout.
"It is big for us because we didn't play very well at home in those four games," Roy said of the back-to-back wins. "We've been playing with confidence on the road and tonight was an important game for us. Nashville lost in overtime. Every point we can get is obviously a plus for us. We've played so many more games than other teams. We just need to continue to find a way to get those points."
The win was Semyon Varlamov's second ever against the Red Wings, as he had gone 1-5-0 in his previous six games against the Original Six franchise.
It also marked the third-straight time that Varlamov's won both games of a back-to-back set. He's played in four such occurrences this season.
"We started really good this road trip," Varlamov said. "I think we played well last night, and tonight was a tough game. I think after the back-to-back the guys were pretty tired. It took us two periods to get going."
The Avalanche as a whole improved to 6-2-0 in the second game of back-to-backs and has won five straight when playing on zero days of rest.
"I don't know what has been the key. Probably recovery," Varlamov said of the team's success in the second half of consecutive-game nights. "Recover well, make sure your body is resting and then be ready to play the next day. It's not easy to play back-to-back on those days, especially when you're facing a lot of shots."
Grigorenko said after the contest that the team gave up too many shots, but he also admitted that the Avs fed off the keeper's play throughout the contest.
"He's our best player tonight," Grigorenko said. "When you see him play like that, it gives you a lot of confidence."
Coming up big when his team needs him is nothing new for Varlamov. He improved to 14-3-3 in 20 career games when he has to make 40 or more saves.
STADIUM SERIES PREVIEW
The Red Wings were the only team the Avalanche had yet to face this season entering Friday, and the two clubs will meet for the second and final time this year in nearly two weeks in an outdoor game in Denver.
Friday's game was a preview of sorts for the contest in 15 days when the Avs host the Wings for the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Coors Field on Saturday, Feb. 27.
That contest at the end of the month will mark the 74th regular-season meeting between the clubs since the Avalanche moved to Denver in 1995, but the meat of the Avs-Wings series was built in the postseason. From 1996-2002, Colorado and Detroit met in the playoffs five times in what became one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. The winner of those matchups went on to win the Stanley Cup three of those times.
Prior to the current stars of the teams squaring off for Saturday's marquee event outdoors, former players from that heated rivalry will take to the ice on top of the Coors Field diamond for an Alumni Game on Friday, Feb. 26, that will surely not disappoint.
Alex Tanguay was a young forward trying to break into the league when the two clubs seemed to battle it out in the postseason on almost a yearly basis, and he remembers those games versus the Red Wings well.
"Obviously some of the great rivalries of the 90's," Tanguay said before Friday's contest. "We played here (in Detroit) in the playoffs in 2000, my first season. I remember like it was yesterday, the intensity, the players on the other side. You see [Steve] Yzerman, [Sergei] Fedorov, all of those guys, and we had a pretty good team ourselves. It was a great rivalry back then."