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Despite outstanding season, Anderson wants more

by Dan Rosen
Craig Anderson remembers stopping the puck 51 times and the roaring, seemingly endless ovation that came shortly after Ryan O'Reilly was credited with a goal that Dan Boyle actually scored for the Colorado Avalanche.

Everything in between is dark.

On the night of April 18, 2010, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks, Anderson discovered what being in the zone feels like.

He made 51 saves in a career-defining game and every single one of them mattered as the Avalanche didn't score until Boyle inadvertently beat his own goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, with a failed pass behind the goal 51 seconds into overtime to hand Colorado a 1-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.

"There are a few moments -- a lot of guys get to it -- but it's tough to hang on to and you can't really explain how you get to it," Anderson, the Avs' 29-year-old goalie, told Wednesday as he reflected on that incredible night six months ago. "A lot of people call it a white moment; it's almost like you black out and you don't remember anything except for the puck. And you don't remember what happened, you just remember stopping it. That was kind of the night. Everything seemed to hit me. Everything seemed to go my way.

"That game could have gone on for another three periods and I don't think they would have scored."

When it was over, when Anderson was announced to the 18,007 inside Pepsi Center as the game's obvious first star, he was held speechless for about two minutes as the fans serenaded him with chants, "An-dy, An-dy," and gave him a moment so few ever get to experience.

Anderson's smile as he stood by the bench waiting out the ovation to do a post-game interview on the Altitude network was reminiscent of a father who just saw his son do something so great, so extraordinary.

"I was overwhelmed," Anderson said. "You don't know what to say. You couldn't really say anything. It was so loud and the energy that was in the building, I felt like a 10-year-old kid looking up at a big Christmas present."

Forgive Anderson if he still, six months later, talks about the night as if it just happened. He took the long road to that game, that ovation, and potholes were everywhere.

There was the time during his five seasons in the Blackhawks organization that he found himself comfortable as a backup.

"I was content on being there and hanging out with the guys," Anderson said. "I didn't have that drive I should have had, that desire to knock off the guy even if he's been there and he's making $5 million or $6 million."

He knows why.

"When you're in a situation where you know one guy is the starter, you get the mentality of, 'Well, I'm not going to beat him out,'" Anderson said. "You get into a relaxed state of just riding behind him, but injuries happen, a guy plays bad -- a lot of situations happen so you can get an opportunity, and if you're not ready for it they're going to find someone else who is."

The Blackhawks wound up trading him to the Florida Panthers, who subsequently waived Anderson before re-assigning him to Rochester of the AHL for most of the 2006-07 season.

It was, as Anderson said, "an eye-opener."

"Any player that makes the NHL is usually the best player on his team from, say, age 5, so you've been doing it all your life," Anderson said. "But it's doing it on the mental side and finding out how to grow up. A lot of people never really grow up and never figure it out. For me it took a few years of pro hockey to figure it out."

Anderson finally "got his mojo back" during the 2007-08 season when he appeared in a then career-high 17 games with Florida. He won eight and posted a .935 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against average.

Under coach Pete DeBoer, his numbers ballooned the following season to 31 games and 15 victories.

The Avalanche signed him to a two-year contract in the summer of 2009 and gave him a chance to be a No. 1 in the NHL. He rewarded them with 38 wins in 71 games last season and became the backbone of a team -- one predicted by many to finish last in the Western Conference -- that shockingly made the playoffs.

"In Florida we had a young coach come in and say, 'I don't care who you are or what you've done, it's what can you do for me now,'" Anderson said. "That's the mentality you have to take. You have to show them that this is what I'm going to do for you now and what I'm going to do for you tomorrow, it doesn't matter what I've done in the past. I had an opportunity to play five or six games in a row a couple of times in Florida and I think that maybe opened a lot of eyes up that maybe he can do this on a day-to-day basis instead of once in a while."

Anderson isn't sure if he'll play 71 games again this season or win another 38, but he's certain when he says he's not comfortable, despite his obvious rank in the dressing room.

He is the Avs' unquestioned No. 1 goalie, but it's a title that's only as good as his last stretch of games.

"You earn the ice time that you get and you have to continue to earn it," Anderson said. "Guys that have played in the League for 10 or 12 years, and I can go down the list of guys I played behind -- (Jocelyn) Thibault, (Nikolai) Khabibulin, (Ed) Belfour, (Tomas) Vokoun -- every year they come to work every day, they battle, and they give their team a chance to win every night. They're never satisfied and that's what I have learned over time -- you can't be satisfied."

But you can enjoy the ride, especially when it takes you through a moment that may never come along again.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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