When you've won only one game in the last four despite either leading or being tied entering the third period, the pressure to perform with the playoffs on the line ratchets up to a whole different level. For the Colorado Avalanche, they seem to thrive on the underdog, "nobody believes in us" role and struggle when expectations rise.
In a dead sprint to the finish line for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with hated rival Minnesota, Colorado needs to make the most against lesser opponents and tonight's contest against the Arizona Coyotes absolutely qualified under that umbrella.
An intense first period of see-saw action saw a ton of high-quality scoring chances on both sides of the rink and about halfway through the Avalanche would break the scoreless tie on a fortunate bounce. Francois Beauchemin's shot would rainbow over Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue and land in the crease behind him where Shawn Matthias would tap it home for the 1-0 lead. Colorado would take the lead into the first intermission.
The second period would be a strong continuation of the first as both teams were getting up and down the ice, playing porous defense but making it exciting with fast skating and trading scoring chances. The game to that point would best be encapsulated by Colorado's first power play, which saw an Avs scoring chance lead to a Coyotes shorthanded scoring opportunity that transitioned into a two-on-one for the Avalanche and Blake Comeau would make the right read by passing to Matt Duchene, who blew the puck past Domingue for the 2-0 lead and his career high 28th goal of the season.
Colorado would enter the third in a familiar position, leading by two, and the pressure to exorcise the demons of the past week at an all-time high. Given another power play and more time in the offensive zone, Colorado would capitalize as Mikhail Grigorenko would notch his second point of the night as he backhanded a rebound past Domingue for a 3-0 lead early on.
The Coyotes, however, would respond by finally solving the Semyon Varlamov riddle on their 32nd shot of the game, a puck shot by Boyd Gordon that got by Varlamov's blocker after finding it's way through a very crowded front of the net.
Varlamov would allow no more through the rest of the night and would earn the game's top star for his 37-save performance as Colorado would eventually end up with the 3-1 victory.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Duchene's career-high 28th goal of the season would be the eventual game-winner and our slam dunk play of the game.
Given Colorado's recent third period horrors, the Grigorenko goal was a huge mental relief for the Avalanche and paved the way to polish off the Coyotes relatively stress free.
BY THE NUMBERS
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"He was solid and that's the Varly we wanted to see. It was a good thing for him to rest. Now he needs to be ready for the next one against the Ducks." - Head Coach Patrick Roy putting out the flames of the short-lived goaltending controversy.
The win moves Colorado back into a tie with the Minnesota Wild but have more games played, keeping them outside of the playoff picture. Colorado has the lead in ROWs, however, which is the first tiebreaker at the end of the season. Going to be a fun finish to the season.
Colorado's next game is the finale of their four game homestand as they welcome in the streaking Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, March 9. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:00 pm MST.