PHILADELPHIA – Forget the flowery prose. Sometimes you just gotta say, “What a game” and leave it at that.
For those who like their hockey as if the ice is a see-saw, with momentum flowing back and forth with every proverbial push off the ground, Saturday’s Colorado Avalanche game here against the Philadelphia Flyers was for you.
The Avs got the last push, winning 5-4 in their first shootout of the season. Mikko Rantanen’s forehand shot after a couple of dekes against goalie Michal Neuvirth won it in the third and final round. It was the Avs’ third win in a row and moved them to 8-5-0, with one more game Sunday against the Islanders before a six-day layoff for games in Sweden.
“We worked hard for that one,” said Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 32 shots, including two highway-robbery jobs on Flyers captain Claude Giroux in a wildly entertaining 3-on-3 overtime. “Last year was last year, but this year we have a different mindset. We keep working, no matter what. I knew that was going to be a tough game. They play so well at home and have such a good power play. It’s probably one of the most dangerous in the league. I just wanted to give us a chance to win.”
The Flyers have some serious offensive firepower. They applied relentless pressure on the Avs at times, especially in the second half of the game. Varlamov and his supporting cast made just enough defensive stops to pull out a game they most surely would have lost last year.
The Avs had to face six Flyers power plays, with Colorado getting half as many. But while the Flyers managed one PP goal, the Avs got two, from Matt Duchene and Rantanen. The latter, which came at 16:13 of the second period, was actually knocked in by Flyers D-man Robert Hagg.
The lead lasted until the 4:33 mark of the third, when Jakub Voracek scored. The Avs were starting to look out of gas a bit by this point, until Duchene arguably made the play of the game. At the end of a long shift, Duchene nonetheless kept fighting for a puck in the Flyers’ zone against Shayne Ghostisbeher. He pried it away off the backcheck and slipped a pass to a cutting Nail Yakupov, who beat Neuvirth through the 5-hole for a 4-3 lead at 5:37.
Although Dale Wiese would tie it back up at 6:37, Varlamov got his team to the shootout with some great goaltending from there – and the Avs’ defense did a better job protecting their zone, especially during a Flyers power play with 5:49 left on a questionable tripping minor against Andrei Mironov.
Varlamov appeared injury on the play, staying down for a few anxious moments.
“The guy fell on my left leg and I felt a bit of a pull on the hamstring, but it was nothing serious,” Varlamov said.
“Both teams played really hard,” Bednar said. “It was up and down and physical, that’s for sure.”
Bednar indicated that 3-on-3 hockey is a bit of an ulcer-inducing thing for coaches, especially a guy like him who “doesn’t like to give up any good scoring chances.”
“But it was a fun game. What more could you want?,” he said.
NOTEBOOK AND OBSERVATIONS
- I think the word “awkward” still applies to the Duchene situation. After a day or two of renewed, heavy trade rumors involving his name, Duchene definitely seems aware of them. He definitely has not been in a talkative mood with the media, and wasn’t a barrel of laughs even after playing perhaps his best game of the season. I’ve covered hockey for 25 years now and I have never seen a situation that has been like this, and lasting for so long. For now, it’s just the same thing: He doesn’t seem to love his work situation, but the arranged marriage continues.
- Nathan MacKinnon had two assists and now has seven points in the last three games. He scored the Avs’ other shootout goal too, which tied it 1-1.
- The Avs played with only 11 forwards, as Rocco Grimaldi and Matt Nieto both sat out with some kind of illness. Chris Bigras was the lone healthy scratch.
- Yakupov broke a scoring slump with his goal, and got better after taking a couple of minor penalties, one of which led to a Giroux goal that put Philly up 2-1.
- Blake Comeau scored a big goal to tie it up 2-2, though, a short-handed marker after a steal by MacKinnon and a 2-on-1 situation.
- Jonathan Bernier will get the start Sunday in Brooklyn against the Islanders.
- Joe Sakic will appear with Peter Forsberg at an event Friday in Sweden.
- Here’s Bednar’s postgame presser: