The Avalanche knew what it was going to face Thursday against the Boston Bruins: a big, physical team that likes to hit.
The best way to combat that: to match it. And that's exactly what Colorado did.
Colorado went blow-for-blow and shot-for-shot with Boston and pulled out a 2-0 victory in a physical contest at TD Garden.
"Today we just wanted to get the respect back and play good hockey," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy.
The Avs matched up well with the Bruins in the size category, as they had 17 of the 35 skaters on the ice who were over 6-feet tall.
The two clubs combined for 52 hits (Colorado 25, Boston 27) and 40 penalty minutes in a game the Avalanche was ready for.
"We were really well-prepared," said defenseman Erik Johnson. "We watched a lot of video on what they were going to do, and we had an excellent game plan."
While Colorado has been getting a reputation this season as a speedy, offensive squad, 6-foot-6, 230-pound, left wing Patrick Bordeleau said the team also has a physical size to them and could equal the Bruins' size and intensity
“[Boston’s] a big team,” Bordeleau said. “They’ve got Chara, Thornton, those kind of guys, [Milan] Lucic, McQuaid, Boychuck … big squad. But I think on our side we have some big guys, too. We have big guys who can play hard, like Steve Downie—he plays hard on every shift.”
At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Zdeno Chara is one of the biggest players in the NHL, but in the first period it was the 5-foot-11 Downie who was able to bring him down.
While battling for the puck behind the Boston net, the two players collided but size didn't have the advantage as Chara fell to the ice while Downie stayed on his skates.
“Boston’s a big physical team—they like to intimidate guys,” said Downie before the game. “They’ve done it for the last couple of years; now that’s how they’ve built their team. We’ve got guys in here who can take care of it. We won’t back down. We won’t shy down."
Downie and Chara got tangled up again in the second period, with Chara getting the better of that meeting. However, Downie made sure he took Chara down with him in order to take the big defenseman out of the play momentarily.
While Colorado matched Boston's intensity throughout the game, the club was also smart with its physical play.
That smart play was evident late in the second period.
Boston's Milan Lucic and the Avs' Gabriel Landeskog got into it after a whistle with 50.2 seconds left in the middle frame, but while Lucic dropped his gloves looking to fight, Landeskog backed off and didn't get fooled into making a dumb play.
Both players received two-minute penalties for roughing, but Lucic also received a 10-minute misconduct, putting one of the Bruins' best players off the ice for half of the third period while Boston trailed 1-0.
"We don’t have anything to prove fighting with him," said Roy, who was pleased with Landeskog's decision to back off. "There is no need for Gabe to go in the box for 10 minutes or 15 minutes. We need him on the ice; he is one of our best players. I thought that was smart by him."
The physical play the Avalanche showed might become a reoccurring theme throughout the season as Colorado has delivered 109 hits through four games, including 69 over the past two games. The Avs had 44 hits in Tuesday's 2-1 win over Toronto.
GIGUERE IN NET
Giguere equaled Varlamov's phenomenal play, and maybe even topped it, making 39 saves in a shutout performance against the Bruins.
It was Giguere's 37th career shutout and his first since March 15, 2012 against New Jersey. He ranks seventh among active goalies in shutouts and is 41st all-time in NHL history.
"It's awesome," said Erik Johnson of his goaltender's performance. "I have a lot of respect for him. He is one of the leaders on this team and to see him come into his first game of the season—he didn't see a ton of preseason action either—and to come in against a team like Boston, he was just exceptional."
Giguere and Boston's goalie Tuukka Rask, who allowed one goal on 29 shots, were in a goaltending dual throughout the game, but Giguere's play stood out, especially late in the contest. The Avalanche netminder made 14 saves in the third period, including making a glove stop on Jordan Caron's shot from the slot at 1:36 to keep his team in the lead.
"Jiggy made some big, big saves at the right time," Roy said.
Rarely do empty-net goals equal hard-working goals. That wasn't the case Thursday.
With Colorado holding off a late Boston rush, the puck came free to the neutral zone with a Bruins player heading back to chase it down.
Matt Duchene knew how key a two-goal cushion would be in the final minute and made up the roughly 25-foot gap between him and the Boston player in a matter of seconds, got the puck in the Bruins zone and threw it into the back of the cage to make it a 2-0 game.
Duchene was also held and hooked as he grabbed the puck at the left circle of the zone, but he still found a way to whack it in from a tough angle to secure the win for the Avalanche.
MILESTONE FOR McLEOD
Cody McLeod reached a special milestone Thursday as he played in his 400th career NHL contest.
Since making his debut on Dec. 19, 2008 the 29-year-old forward has been best known for his physical play and ranks sixth all-time in franchise history with 868 penalty minutes.
The now seven-year NHL veteran needs only 80 more penalty minutes to tie Adam Foote (948) for the most in Avalanche history.
McLeod had 83 penalty minutes in the shortened season last year after having five straight seasons of 100 or penalty minutes.
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