Clutch. Clutch is the one word you can use to describe what happened within the walls of Pepsi Center on Friday night.
The Colorado Avalanche, riding the momentum from a goal by Joe Sakic with 5.9 seconds remaining to tie the game, beat the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, in one of the most classic hockey games you will see.
Colorado opened the scoring in the first period on back to back goals from Andrew Brunette and Milan Hejduk, both of whom have been lighting up the scoreboard of late. Brunette, finishing the game with two goals and one assist, now has 20 points in his last 19 games. Hejduk, who's play seems to have completely been reborn since the Avs acquired Peter Forsberg, scored as well. He now has seven points in his last four games. But the offensive juggernaut that is the Colorado Avalanche was led again by Peter Forsberg's three assists for the second game in a row. That gives him six assists in two games, and nine points in seven games played with the Avalanche this season. He is turning out to be more than worth what Avalanche General Manager Francois Giguere paid for him. And he is just getting started.
After going up 2-0, Jose Theodore gave up two quick goals to the Oilers, but not before making an "ESPN's Top 10 Plays" save on Dustin Penner. That save, in fact, was the number one play of the day.
Play went back and fourth through much of the rest of the game, with some physical points and a rematch of Ian Laperriere and Steve Staios squaring off for what proved to be a short lived fight, (with 'Lappy' coming out on top). The teams traded goals, and Edmonton buckled down in the third period and appeared to be on their way to victory and that much closer to a playoff spot.
But Joe Sakic had different plans.
After ringing a backhander off the post just a few minutes earlier, Sakic took a heads-up pass from Forsberg behind the net and put the puck top-shelf to tie the game at four goals apiece with hardly less than six seconds to go in the game. The Avalanche had their goalie pulled, and the extra attacker paid off.
Overtime proved nothing, and in the shootout, Wojtek Wolski, Sakic, and Hejduk all scored for Colorado, securing the win. Edmonton finished the shootout with one goal.
It was an electric atmosphere inside Pepsi Center, and you could feel it through your TV. Sakic himself said in a post-game interview that it was "as loud as Pepsi Center has ever been" when he scored the tying goal. The fans must be feeling the playoff hockey, and after a year hiatus from 'the Big Dance', Avalanche fans are again ready to shake those white poms and cheer for their team.
Around the rest of the league, Vancouver goalie Roberto Loungo was chased from the net for a second straight game after allowing four goals to the Minnestoa Wild. The Wild went on to shut out the Canucks by that same score. The victory increased Minnesota's lead over Calgary and now Colorado, who are both tied at 90 points, to three points with three games left on the regular season schedule. Colorado has three as well, but the Flames have five games remaining and the potential to gain four points on both clubs with those two games at hand. Of those last three for the Wild and Avalanche, two are against each other, which could provide for some real drama in the last game of the season. All three teams have a shot at winning the Northwest division title and the third seed that goes with it, and all three will be battling hard. Vancouver, who was booted from the eigth playoff spot by Nashville following the Predators win tonight, will be looking to win their remaining games to get back into the playoff picture. The Canucks play one against the Avalanche and Oilers, and two against the Flames. With a little help from Vancouver and Edmonton, the Avalanche have a legitamate shot at winning the division. Edmonton, on the other hand, was dealt a stifiling blow by not getting the extra point awarded to the winner of the shootout. They must win every game now to be considered for the eigth and final seed. And two games against Calgary won't be easy to win. The one against Vancouver, though, could be, considering the Canucks' play of late.
The Avs play the Wild on Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, with the Wild coming off 2 consecutive wins. It is starting to look like the final seedings of these Western Conference teams will not be decided until potentially the last day of the season. And this is what the NHL wants. These close divisional and playoff battles are what they need to generate interest. Then fans can look ahead and keep an eye on what is affecting their team and how they expect them to perform. But the players will tell you, just take it one game at a time. -