In the Avalanche's and Wild's first two meeting this season the games were back-and-forth, grinding-out contests. That trend continued Saturday night.
Neither team had many clear scoring chances as both defenses played stingy, and the goalies were up to the task to make saves when tested. The only regulation goals scored came on shots that went off a skate and was tipped in front.
In its first two games against Minnesota, Colorado was able to pull out wins—one coming in a shootout—and needed to win a tiebreaker again Saturday to take a 3-0-0 lead in the series. The Avs couldn't and the Wild won the shootout 2-1 and won the game by the same score.
"I think both teams played really well," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said. "It was two fluky goals. Ours missed the net, hit the skate and went in, and I think they had same thing, had a tip into the net. They were not pretty goals, but at the same time I thought both teams played a pretty good game."
The game was played tight on the ice, but it was also tight on the final gamesheet as both teams had 27 shots, blocked 15 shots and had 11 takeaways. The Wild had a 25-23 edge in hits, but the Avs won 26 of 50 faceoffs.
"I thought we played a really good hockey game," Avs center Matt Duchene said. "I think we dictated most of the game but give them some credit, their goalie played outstanding. They are an extremely stingy defensive team."
Said right wing PA Parenteau: “It was a grind. I thought it was open for the first 10 minutes of the game. I thought there were a lot of chances on both sides, but then it came back to normal pretty quickly."
The game was the third meeting in 16 days between the teams and had a postseason feel to it with neither club allowing much space on the ice when the other had the puck.
"It's like a playoff game. I thought we played a pretty good hockey game, we had a lot of shot on him and didn't get anything to go," Duchene said. "It was too bad that we weren't able to come out with two points there."
Colorado and Minnesota are now tied in the standings with 43 points, but the Avs have a slight edge with them leading the series 2-0-1 and having played four fewer games.
Expect more of these grinding games in the final two regular-season meetings between the clubs, Jan. 11 in St. Paul and Jan. 30 in Denver, and maybe come April or May in a best-of-seven series.
MITCHELL APPEARS IN 300TH GAME
Avalanche center John Mitchell appeared in his 300th career NHL game Saturday night and had a big assist in Colorado's first goal.
When asked about reaching the milestone after morning skate, Mitchell kind of brushed off the question like it wasn't that big of a deal and that the night's game against Minnesota was just like any other.
"I guess it’s a good number to get to, to get to 300 games, and hopefully many more," Mitchell said. "I'm certainly excited to get that mark."
However after thinking about it a little longer, Mitchell said hitting the 300-game mark and playing in the NHL for now six seasons is special to him.
"It's important to me to play that many games in the league," he said. "Growing up as a young kid watching the NHL, playing hockey as a young guy and obviously wanting to play in this league, you realize that dream and then you make it, and now you've played 300 games, so its certainly fun."
Selected in the fifth round (158th overall) by Toronto in the 2003 Entry Draft, the center spent three seasons with the Maple Leafs and one with the New York Rangers before the Avalanche signed him in the summer of 2012.
Mitchell has been a solid two-way forward for the Avs since donning the burgundy and blue, notching 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) and 34 penalty minutes in 78 games with Colorado. He has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) this season.
HEJDA BACK IN THE LINEUP
When Jan Hejda injured his knee Dec. 6 at Edmonton, it looked like the defenseman would be out for weeks or even months. The injury occurred after he was chasing the puck in his own end, hit an edge on the ice and collided with the boards feet first. He remained on the ice for several moments holding his leg before being helped to the locker room.
Despite how bad the injury looked, test results afterwards came back positive for him and the Avalanche as he would only miss 10-14 days with a knee sprain.
Nine days after suffering the injury and after missing the previous four games, Hejda was back on the ice for the Avs' Saturday game at Pepsi Center.
"If it didn't feel good I wouldn't play tonight," Hejda said after morning skate. "It wasn't as bad as it looked on television, but right now I feel 100 percent."
Hejda had been paired on defense with Erik Johnson for much of the season, and the blue liners were reunited for the contest against the Wild. Johnson and Hejda have made a pretty good duo this season as they lead the team in plus/minus with plus-18 and plus-17 ratings, respectively, which are also ranked in the top five in the league.
Hejda ended up playing 25:50, second most among Avs players, and had three hits, a shot and a blocked shot. He said he was thankful the injury wasn't serious and that he could return so quickly.
"It feels great because nobody wants to be out for a long time," Hejda said. "First, it's hard to watch your teammates play on television, and second, I didn't want to lose my game shape right now. I'm very glad I was able to make it back in little more than a week."
GOOD NEWS ON TANGUAY
"[Tanguay] said this morning that it was better," Roy said. "I think it’s a step in the right direction, but again we're not going to put any timeline on his return."
Roy's announcement was positive, considering four days earlier he said Tanguay had a setback in his rehab of a knee injury—suffered Nov. 2 versus Montreal—and had developed a hip ailment. Roy said at his Tuesday pregame news conference that he believed the hip injury came about as he was rehabbing the knee.
Tanguay had three goals and six assists (nine points) in the first 13 games this year.
- Ryan Wilson was activated from injured reserve Saturday but didn't play in the game versus the Wild. Wilson has been out since Nov. 6 with a back injury, and Roy said he wants him to participate in a few more practices before playing in a game.
- Cory Sarich extended his point streak to three games (0g/3a), tying his career long streak set Nov. 17-21, 2002 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sarich’s current three-game assist streak is a career high.
- The Avalanche celebrated the history of hockey as the organization hosted NHL Trophy Night before and during its game against the Wild. Fans were able to see and take pictures of several league trophies, including the Stanley Cup. Other trophies in attendance included Conn Smythe (playoff MVP), Vezina (top goalie), Calder Memorial (top rookie), Art Ross (top scorer) and Hart (regular season MVP).
- The annual Avs Better Halves Holiday Tree auction also took place Saturday night. Fans were able to bid on one-of-a-kind trees, designed by the Avs Better Halves for each player and one tree for the coaching staff. Proceeds from the auction will go to benefit Avs Better Halves community programs supported by Kroenke Sports Charities.
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