Incredible Season Rolls Along in Chicago

Avs fastest in franchise to 40 wins; clinch season series vs. Cup-champion 'Hawks

Tuesday, 03.04.2014 / 11:40 PM
Scott Ward

The Avalanche won for the 40th time this season Tuesday night in Chicago and did it faster than any team has done it in franchise history.

With a 4-2 score the Avs (40-17-5; 85 points) also took the season series (3-1-0) from the defending Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks and moved to within a point of Chicago in the Western Conference’s Central Division standings.

Not a bad little night in the Windy City for the boys in burgundy and blue.

Semyon Varlamov was outstanding again with 36 saves, and Tyson Barrie continued his offensive output against Chicago this season (three goals, three assists) when he potted a power-play game winner with about seven minutes to play in regulation and assisted on Paul Stastny’s empty-net job with 33 seconds remaining. 

Maxime Talbot started the scoring (his seventh), Ryan O’Reilly added one, too (his team-leading 24th) and Stastny reached the 20-goal plateau for the sixth time in his career. 

The Blackhawks dropped to 36-13-14 (86 points) and now lead the Avs by just a point in the Central. The teams will play for the final time in the regular season next Wednesday, March 12, at Pepsi Center. 

“Our objective at the start of the season was to surprise the world of hockey,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “Today we’re making it more interesting. We’re one point behind with one game in hand.

“Our players deserve a lot of credit for the effort. They were jumping on the ice with great intensity, and I’m proud of our group. Simple as that.”

The Avalanche’s 2000-01 squad won for the 40th time in its 63rd game of the season and then went on to win the franchise’s second Cup, with Roy as its backstop. He was asked after the game to put that in perspective, to share what it meant to him to be the goalie of one team and the coach of another that top the franchise’s “Fastest to 40 wins” list.

He smiled and rubbed his face during the first part of the question, letting his renowned competitive spirit show a smidge as he was reminded that one of his records had just fallen.

Then Patrick Roy, Avalanche Coach, reemerged, and voiced good feelings for his players, like a proud father seeing his children surpassing his own success.

“We have a great team—good young team; good mix,” he said. “It is not necessarily a surprise to me, but it is to the NHL. If you’re looking at everybody who was making predictions at the beginning of the year, 80 percent, maybe 90 percent, said the Avalanche wouldn’t make the playoffs.

“We’re going to take it one day at a time. We’re going to remain even keel. That’s what we’ve been doing all season. We’ve got another big test in Detroit in two days.”

If you’re looking for a reason for the Avalanche’s dramatic turnaround this year, you can find it somewhere in those two responses. There’s some level-headedness. There’s some genuine pride for his players and their success.

There’s also a bit of, “It’s us against the world.” A touch of, “Why Not Us?”

Roy was pretty darn good as a hockey player, but he might be even better as a hockey coach. He continues to showcase that with each and every win, even if it comes at the expense of his own marks set as a player.

“When you have 40 wins at this stage of the season that means you’re doing something really good,” he said Tuesday night. “I’m proud of our guys. We’re not satisfied, and we have to keep going. We know there’s a lot of hockey to be played. It’s up to us to keep playing as we are.”

'THE KID' AND 'THE GREAT ONE'

Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon has already mastered the sports mantra of, “Team Before Self,” but he’s going to have to get used to speaking about himself a little bit. That’s bound to happen when your start accomplishing things only done previously by some guy named Gretzky.

MacKinnon assisted on Stastny’s empty-net score Tuesday, giving him points (five goals, 12 assists) in 12 straight games, the longest scoring stretch by an NHL rookie since Stastny himself had a league-record 20-game streak in the 2006-07 season.

He also tied Wayne Gretzky's NHL record Tuesday for the longest point streak by an 18-year-old. Gretzky also went 12 straight games with a point before he turned 19, doing so from Dec. 9, 1979 to Jan. 5, 1980.

“The only time I think about the streak is when people ask me about it,” MacKinnon said Monday after practice. “It’s literally not on my mind at all. At the end of the day it’s a point streak that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Our goal is to win our division. Whether I get a point or not, I want to help the team win games.”

POSTGAME NOTEBOOK

» Talbot’s first-period score gave the Avs the first lead of the game, and Colorado improved to a remarkable 31-1-3 this season when scoring first.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, without a doubt,” Roy said. “It’s always good in this league to play with a lead. We rely on a great goaltender, and Varly was solid again tonight. I thought we played a sound game. This is a very good hockey team. We’re certainly happy with where we are today.”

» Colorado is 13-5-0 in its past 18 games and 17-6-1 in its past 24. The Avs have the most wins (16) and points (33) in the NHL since Dec. 31. Colorado is 8-3-0 in its past 11 road games.

» Varlamov improved to 31-11-5 after reaching 30 wins Sunday for the first time in his career. He’s just the fifth goaltender in franchise history to win 30 games in a single season, joining Roy (seven times, 1996-97 to 2002-03), David Aebischer (2003-04), Peter Budaj (2006-07) and Craig Anderson (2009-10).

Varlamov is 15-3-1 in his past 19 starts and 18-3-5 in his past 27 games (25 starts).

» Barrie’s goal gave him nine on the year. He’s the first Avalanche defensemen to score nine goals in a season since John-Michael Liles (12) in 2008-09.

» O’Reilly’s score was his team-leading 24th, adding to his career high. It’s also the most goals in a single season by an Avalanche player since Matt Duchene and David Jones both scored 27 in 2010-11.

» Duchene assisted on O’Reilly’s score, moving his point streak to five games (two goals, six assists.) Erik Johnson assisted on the Avs' first three scores. It was his sixth career three-plus point game.

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