Sometimes it comes down to saying what needs to be said, on the ice or in the dressing room. Other times it’s simply a matter of leading by example, putting money where the mouth is.
The latter was on full display on Wednesday night in Colorado’s 4-3 road loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Down 3-0 after the opening stanza, the Avalanche needed a calming, hero-like presence in order to kickstart a comeback. The club got that and more from two of the more stable sages on the roster.
Perennial sniper and all-around goalscoring master Jarome Iginla opened the Avalanche attack, potting a power-play goal on a one-timer shot from the point. The blast, Iginla’s 25th tally of the season, beat goaltender Ben Scrivens and fired up Colorado, inspiring quite the turnaround.
“We weren’t trying to be too fancy. We were moving it quick and just trying to find a guy for an open shot,” defenseman Tyson Barrie said of the power play. “We blasted a few, and Iggy was screaming for that one, so I just slid it over. Then he, like he usually does, did the rest and put it right where he wanted it.”
With backup netminder Reto Berra logging major minutes—coming in to relieve Semyon Varlamov after Edmonton’s third goal at 9:36 of the first frame—and turning aside nearly everything sent his direction, the Avs had carte blanche to keep the offense rolling.
Colorado converted again just over 10 minutes later when Alex Tanguay batted a rebound out of the air and directly into the twine behind Scrivens. The marker capped off a tic-tac-toe-type play as Gabriel Landeskog fed a pass to Ryan O'Reilly, who shot the puck on net and created the rebound set up for Tanguay.
It would be this line that connected one final time, tying the game 3-3 for the Avs at 4:54 of the third period.
Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz, pressured behind his own net by Landeskog, flubbed a routine outlet pass and sent the puck straight to Tanguay down low. Like the wily veteran he is, Tanguay drove to the net and then sailed beyond the crease, turning himself to fire a shot as the goaltender fell away from the net.
The play is a staple of Tanguay’s, something he’s pulled off both in play and in the shootout many times this season. It was also something that Scrivens was ready for. So instead of shooting the puck, Tanguay dished it over to O’Reilly, who had snuck in all alone and was perched at the top of the crease.
O’Reilly gently nestled the puck into the yawning net with the calm precision of a point-producing surgeon, shaking off the momentous weight of the situation to complete a three-goal comeback 35:18 in the making.
“Obviously, not the start we wanted, down 3-0, but we didn’t play as bad as we thought. We were getting lots of shots, and [Edmonton] made some good plays on [their] first two goals,” said Barrie. “We just kind of stuck with it. We didn’t get too down, we didn’t panic, and we knew if we played like we can, we can get lots of shots and tie this thing up, no problem.”
The marker was O’Reilly’s third point of the night—he assisted on the two previous goals—and Tanguay’s second. Landeskog also finished with a helper.
O’Reilly extended his running point streak (four goals, five assists) to five games, which includes a stretch of 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in his last 18 games.
“That line was phenomenal tonight. That line was phenomenal,” head coach Patrick Roy said of the trio. “Factor had a lot of jump. Tanguay made an outstanding play to O’Reilly on that third goal. They had chances all night long. They were very dominant. We love that line.”
Alas, the Avs were unable to hold on, and despite outshooting the Oilers 44-34 when the final horn sounded, the visiting squad fell 4-3.
“It’s not the type of start we wanted, but at the same time, yes I am proud of the way the guys played after,” Roy said. “The second and third period, I thought we dominated the game. We had 44 shots on net, a lot of good chances. Obviously, we did a lot of good things out there.”
Roy said he opted to relieve Varlamov after the third goal in the first period with the hope that it would inspire the team.
“That was just changing the momentum of the game, and sometimes it’s the best way to do it. You win and you lose as a team, and we certainly didn’t have a good start. Sometimes just a goalie change could help the team,” he said. “He’s been our best player all year. Varly has been dominant all year. Tonight was just in order to change the momentum of the game.”
The gambit worked for Colorado, which allowed just one shot on net for the remainder of the period. Berra was fantastic in his role from there on out, turning aside 26 attempts to keep the game close until very end.
The effort could earn Berra a starting role on Thursday, when the Avs complete a back-to-back set at the Vancouver Canucks.
“I’m going to think about it,” Roy said. “Reto played really well. Maybe it will be a good chance for him to play tomorrow night again. We’ll see.”
While the end result doesn’t do the Avs any favors when it comes to the playoffs, Roy said he’s happy with the way the team has been playing lately and there’s no giving up.
“You’re not going to hear that from me. You know me better than that. We’re going believe in ourselves. We’re going to continue to play hard. That’s the type of hockey we want to see [from] our team,” he said. “Obviously, not the start we had, but this is the type of hockey that we want. This is a resilient group. This is a group that wants to learn, is eager to learn, and they were doing just that.”
With his second-period marker, Iginla now has 87 points (37 goals, 50 assists) in 93 games against the Oilers—his most versus any team and the most of any active skater against Edmonton—and four goals in his last six matches. He’s also now reached 25 goals in a single season for the 15th time in his career.