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As this season winds down, the Colorado Avalanche are all about searching for the positives as they begin looking to next season. Head Coach Patrick Roy keeps finding reasons to pump the optimism into the Pepsi Center despite another season in which the Avs will fail to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On a night like this, playing against one of the NHL’s worst teams in the last ten years, Roy certainly won’t have to look far to find the positives.
A wire-to-wire dominant performance from the Avs as a whole saw them defeat the visiting Buffalo Sabres, 5-3, even if the Sabres woke up in the 3rd period and tried to make things interesting.
It didn’t take long for the Avs to make their mark as shortly after killing a penalty, Marc-Andre Cliche would score a goal, his second of the season and just his third in 144 NHL games, on a puck that seemed to float for ages before finally going in behind flailing Sabres goalie Anders Lindback. Cody McLeod was the real playmaker on the goal as his hard work on the cycle with linemate Dennis Everberg ended in a beautiful pass out front to the waiting Cliche.
Just 32 seconds later would see John Mitchell score, his tenth of the season, a tap-in goal driving the net from an immaculate pass by Matt Duchene, whose offensive fireworks drove the offensive Avalanche engine throughout the night. A quiet final 9 minutes of the first period would see the Avs take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission where Buffalo would decide to make a change in net, going with Matt Hackett the rest of the way.
Hackett’s workload would be light as he faced only 3 shots in the second period…but two of them got past him. Gabriel Landeskog made an excellent play on the forecheck to stifle the Buffalo breakout, forcing the puck to linemate Ryan O’Reilly, who would make a gorgeous no-look pass to a streaking Tyson Barrie for an easy goal past the helpless Hackett.
3 minutes later, a Zach Redmond-led Avalanche breakout would give Duchene the puck alone in the offensive zone against two Buffalo defenders and he found a shooting lane and fired a laser past Hackett, giving the Avs a 4-0 lead. Despite being outshot 20-15 after two periods (score effects played a role in this), the Avs would take their 4-goal lead into the third period where a different Sabres team was waiting.
When a team is as bad as the Sabres have been this season, with 48 points and 12 regulation wins in 74 games, third period deficits are certainly no stranger to them. Still, they put up a spirited effort in the third and made the Avalanche earn the 2 points as the Sabres offense woke up in a big way.
Andrej Meszaros scored his 4th goal of the season just 3:09 into the period, making it 4-1 in favor of Colorado. Brad Stuart would seemingly put the game away as he scored his 3rd goal of the season just over a minute later on a bullet from the blue line, bringing the score to 5-1.
Meszaros would respond with a goal from the blueline of his own, his second of the night, and Rasmus Ristolainen would add a tally of his own minutes later to bring the game back into question at 5-3. From there, the Avs and specifically Semyon Varlamov seemed to re-focus on the task at end and locked down the end of the game.
Varlamov would make 35 saves on 38 shots by night’s end and the Avs walked away with 2 points they had to fight much harder for than they expected after two periods of play.
3 Stars of the Game:
- Matt Duchene – 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 shots, 17:35 TOI
- Jarome Iginla – 3 assists, 1 shot, 18:30 TOI
- Andrej Meszaros – 2 goals, 4 shots, 17:33 TOI