Western Conference Shakedown


Last night the Colorado Avalanche rode on the back of its young superstars and new faces to their playoff clinching win.  Four teams still had a chance to make the playoffs, two with slim chances and two with legitimate chances.  The St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were holding on to hopes that they could rally past the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche.  The Avalanche who had just recently turned around their worst skid of the season closed that door and killed the dreams last night with Rookie Matt Duchene‘s spectacular shootout goal lifting the Avs past the Canucks 4-3 at GM Place.

For the Flames, the only real competitor for the eighth spot, to have had a chance they needed the Avs to lose last Sunday (they beat the Sharks) and they needed to win as well (they lost to the Hawks.)  Even after the Avs pulled ahead by two the Flames still had slight hopes that they could still make it, a win last night for the Flames or even an overtime loss would have kept them in the game.  The Avs needed the Flames to lose in regulation and to win their own game.  Done and done.  The Sharks beat the Flames 2-1 with goals from Jamie McGinn and Rob Blake.  The Flames were kept from being blanked by Rene Bourque‘s goal.

Ducks and Blues
The Ducks went from being in the 13th spot in the Western Conference right after the Olympics to the 11th spot and still within a viable chance of making the playoffs.  While that dream died, this team has star power that can’t be denied.  In their game against the Kings last night the Ducks lost in a shootout.  Leading the entire game the Kings came back with four goals in two periods to force OT and eventually a shootout.  The game started off with a goal from Jason Blake on the PP in the 1st at 5:28.  Teemu Selanne got his first of two for the night at 16:48 when he lifted his own rebound past Jonathan QuickBobby Ryan started the Ducks off right for the second period when he scored at 2:01.  At 2:49 Quick was replaced by Erik Ersberg.  The Kings’ Dustin Brown put them on the board at 9:46 by rebounding his own shot.  Selanne scored on the PP at 12:19 before his team stopped showing up.  Since the Ducks were no longer rushing to the puck, taking shots, or working hard the Kings took advantage.  Alexander Frolov scored at 16:41 on the PP starting one of the three goals the Kings would put up unanswered by the Ducks.  Michal Handzus forced the game to OT with his goal at 18:51 in the third after teammate Justin Williams opened the period with a goal at 7:56.  Overtime wouldn’t solve it so the teams were sent into a shootout.  The heroes were Jack Johnson & Anze Kopitar.  With this win the Kings are sitting sixth in the WC and are one point behind the Predators but have a game in hand.  The Red Wings have just as many games left as the Kings (three) and are one point behind them.  Talk about a close race!

The Game
Darcy Tucker put the Avs up first 6:17 into the first period when an exponential mistake by Alexander Edler when he not only turned over the puck in his defensive end to Tucker but then screened his shot in front of Roberto Luongo.  Daniel Sedin tied the game up with 2:01 left in the first period when Craig Anderson tried to play the puck after it took a strange bounce off the boards leaving his net wide open for Daniel to strike.  Avs took the lead 63 seconds later when T.J. Galiardi‘s shot was misplayed by Luongo, swinging the momentum back to the young squad.  Mason Raymond equalized Galiardi’s goal seven minutes into the second period when he beat Andy on a two on one rush.  Paul Stastny took a saucer pass over a diving Shane O’Brien from Chris Stewart and deked it around Luongo to put the Avs up 3-2 at 14:07.  In the second period the Avs’ Galiardi & Canucks’ Samuelsson took penalties giving the Canucks four on four, which typically favors the trailing team as it opens the ice up (which should help H. Sedin, D. Sedin, and Salo)  The Avs held onto their lead until they gave up a power play opportunity late in the third and the Sedin twins made them pay.  Taking a feed from his twin Henrik Sedin, Daniel beat Anderson farside over Andy’s glove on a three on two rush at 15:54 in the third.  It took the Avalanche, who had been defending not attacking, more than half of the period to put even a single shot on goal.  The game couldn’t be settled in regulation, nor in overtime. 

Headed to a ShootOut
Canucks elected to go first, putting the pressure on their goalie Luongo if it came down to it.  Kyle Wellwood was the first to face Anderson he was waiting for Anderson to make the first move but Andy refused and Kyle went high glove side which Andy easily blocked.  Milan Hejduk was the first to go for the Avalanche and he deked in close on Luongo, but Luongo spread out like a bear skin on a wood floor in a cabin.  Duke couldn’t lift the puck instead trying to slide it under Lou’s legs and got stuffed.  Then it was Pavol Demitra‘s turn, he went wide out to the left and when Andy didn’t give an inch and wouldn’t commit he had no other choice but to shoot which Andy half-heartedly kicked away.  Stewart was next for the Avs, Luongo came out to challenge and took away the shot so Stewart tried to half-heartedly go five hole.  No go, still 0-0 after two rounds.  The Canucks picked Ryan Kesler to go last.  Kesler went wide right, Andy refusing to go down low stopped him with his glove.  It all came down to this, Duchene v. Luongo, the rookie v. Gold Medal Olympian.  Duchene went down the center following a series of quick puck handling moves and finally a deke that had Luongo guessing backhand and sprawling down to which Duchene went forehand just under the crossbar.  The celebration might have been excessive for some, but for Duchene who got interfered during the game but no call, the pressure that had been lifted for the Avalanche couldn’t hold it back.

For this Avs fan, it was pure ecstasy.  After three rounds of shooting my heart racing, stomach flipping, hands clenched, screaming at or for my Avs I could not ask for anything more.  They came, they fought, they clinched.
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