Last week, the Colorado Avalanche embarked on a three game road trip out East to face three very tough opponents in Buffalo, New Jersey and New York.
Both the Sabres and the Devils have rebounded from poor starts to the season and have worked themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Rangers have been among the best teams in the league all season long and currently sit atop the Eastern Conference.
The Avs and Sabres found themselves tied after two periods, but the Sabres scored a go-ahead goal less than two minutes into the third period. During the final seconds of the period, goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled for a sixth skater and the Sabres had just cleared the puck, which looked to be the end of the game.
The Avalanche showed their resiliency, however, when Gabriel Landeskog took a pass from Steve Downie and flew down the ice, evaded the Buffalo defensemen and got a shot on goal. Goalie Ryan Miller was unable to corral it and after an attempt by Ryan O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn pounded her home with just .7 seconds remaining on the clock.
Colorado would go on to win the game in a shootout with Peter Mueller netting the lone shootout goal, and Varlamov improving on his already impressive shootout stats by stopping both Sabres shooters.
The next night, the Avalanche journeyed to New Jersey to play the Devils. Avs fans have fond memories of New Jersey, mostly from Game 6 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals. Adam Foote's first period goal in that game was probably the most memorable of his storied Avalanche career.
The Devils outplayed the Avs last Thursday. Colorado didn't look like they quite had their legs under them after the big emotional win the night before in Buffalo. Jean-Sebastien Giguere got the start in net, and matched Martin Brodeur save-for-save.
Giguere and Brodeur had an epic goaltending battle in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals in which Brodeur's Devils prevailed in seven games, but Giguere won the Conn Smythe despite being on the losing club.
Both Giguere and Brodeur recorded shutouts, but it was Brodeur who won the game in the shootout. Giguere was beaten by both Devils shooters while Hejduk hit the post and Mueller was stopped by the future hall-of-famer Brodeur.
Some questioned Joe Sacco's decision to leave in Giguere for the shootout, since Varlamov has the stellar shootout stats, but putting in a cold goalie would have been risky, and Giguere has played spectacularly through 65 minutes and earned the right to be the goalie of record. Despite the shootout loss, the Avalanche got another much-needed point.
Saturday night saw Colorado in the Big Apple taking one on of the best teams in the NHL in one of the league's most storied arenas. Varlamov was back in goal for the Avs and was brilliant with a 41-save effort. He allowed the first goal of the game to New York's Mats Zuccarello, but shut the door after that.
Matt Hunwick tied up the game late in the first with a nifty move around a Rangers defenseman and backhanded it topshelf over goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Matt Duchene assisted on Hunny's goal, a big point for him and his first since returning from an ankle injury.
Gabriel Landeskog netted the game-winner in the second by redirecting a Jan Hejda slap shot past Lundqvist. Landeskog later tweeted, "Kept that puck for sure. Not everyday you get to squeeze one past the best. #dreamcometrue"
Paul Stastny would later ice the game with an empty netter. So the Avalanche earned five out of six possible points on the road trip. You can't really ask for much more than that.
Unfortunately, the other teams in the Western Conference playoff race continue to win as well. As it stands right now, the Colorado Avalanche are in eighth place, but five teams are separated by just two points.
Tonight, the Avs will get a chance to distance themselves from one of the teams right on their tail when they face the Calgary Flames. The Flames are two points behind Colorado with one game in hand. The Avalanche have lost their last nine consecutive meetings with the Flames and have not beaten them since October 28th, 2011. Huge game for both teams tonight in Denver.
The Flames will be without Avalanche killer, Rene Bourque, who was traded to Montreal back in January. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff always brings his A-game against the Avs though, and the Flames still boast their long-time captain Jarome Iginla, who is still very much of an offensive threat. Winger Alex Tanguay plays well against the club with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2001.
Semyon Varlamov will oppose Kiprusoff and try to continue his stellar play of late and Gabriel Landeskog will try to further his case for the Calder. As a whole, the Avalanche must be good for an entire 60 minutes tonight.
After a short one-game homestand, Colorado will travel to Phoenix to face a Coyotes team that sits tied with the Avs in points, but with one less game played. Another very big four-point game.
Saturday will find the Avalanche back in Denver to face the division-leading Vancouver Canucks, another team the Avs have not beaten in their last several attempts. The schedule will not be easy and every team in the race has at least a game in hand on the Avs, but if the Avalanche continue to win, good things will happen!
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