Defensemen, by name and by trade, are on the ice to prevent the other team from scoring. And if some offense comes along with it, that’s great.
This is getting a little ridiculous, though.
Tyson Barrie—a defenseman, a D-man, part of the Avs’ D-corps, whatever you want to call him—was again an offensive hero for the Avalanche on Thursday night at Pepsi Center. But instead of waiting for extra time to show his flair for the dramatic, Barrie flashed a little bit in regulation and then did it again in the shootout of Colorado’s 3-2 win against the Rangers (43-30-5).
He tied the game with a rocket shot from the slot with 51.4 seconds left in the third period and then scored the lone goal in the tiebreaker, with a slick first-round backhand shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist's right pad.
With Chicago winning earlier in the night against Minnesota, the Avs (49-21-6) entered the final minute Thursday in danger of holding just a one-point lead over the Blackhawks in both teams’ push for second place in the Central Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Barrie had already thrown in three OT goals this season before Thursday—tying the Avs’ single-season franchise record and matching Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s James Neal for the NHL lead—and he now leads all Avalanche defenseman with 11 goals and ranks third on the club with a plus-15 rating.
He didn’t score in overtime against the Rangers—when the Pepsi Center crowd was almost expecting it—but he made up for it by potting his first career shootout attempt while becoming just the third Avs defenseman to take part in a shootout (John Michael Liles and Jordan Leopold.
“I think that third periods are usually our best periods—we don’t panic if we are down one or two going into the third,” said Barrie after the game, while dodging various locker room items, tossed his way from teammates who have proven a loose bunch time and time again this season. “Anytime you’re under a minute and you can tie it up is obviously a big boost for the guys, and I was just fortunate to be the guy tonight. I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Barrie’s tying shot came in a bit of a scramble in the Rangers zone after New York won a faceoff and tried to clear the puck with Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov on the bench for an extra attacker.
Erik Johnson grabbed the clearing attempt, though, and tried a shot back toward Lundqvist, but it was blocked, and the puck slid toward the slot. Paul Stastny had a first try at it, but a poke check foiled it and sent the puck Barrie’s way.
The rubber actually slid off Barrie’s stick on his first attempt, but he recovered and threw it just past the left leg of a stunned Lundqvist.
“I was coming in, and the puck kind of shot behind me, and I just tried to grab it—I didn’t try to shoot it at first,” Barrie said. “I just tried to corral it, and I lost it, and I looked, and it was was still right there. So I was lucky to shoot it, and it went along the ice. I don’t think you beat Lundqvist too often like that. It might have messed him up a little bit.”
It pushed the game into the extra period and subsequent shootout, where Barrie started with a goal, and Varlamov finished it, stopping all three New York tries.
The Avs improved to 15-6 in beyond-regulation games this season, 10-3 in overtime and 5-3 in shootouts and now have an NHL-most 10 overtime wins and 15 combined OT/shootout wins.
Thanks to Barrie, who spent two weeks earlier this season with Colorado’s America Hockey League affiliate in Lake Erie, following a stretch of eight-of-nine games from mid-October to early November where he was a healthy scratch.
“You accept to go to the minors, you work on your game and you accept to play a ‘north’ game, that’s all,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said when asked to put into words the remarkable change in Barrie’s role with the Avs, compared to the first part of the season. “We don’t want to see him play an east-west game. We want him to go north, and he does that perfectly. Right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence, and he has our confidence. He’s fun to watch. He’s fun to watch.”
The win was Varlamov’s league-leading 39th of the season, leaving him one shy of Roy’s franchise record for wins in a single season.
The victory was also his 24th at home this season, which tied Roy’s franchise mark for home wins set during the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup-winning season of 2000-01. Varlamov made 29 saves and thwarted all the Rangers’ tries in the shootout to improve to 24-9-3 at Pepsi Center this season.
“It’s amazing to be a part of history,” Varlamov said. “Right now we have [six] games left. We need to keep playing those games. We have to keep playing well and be ready for the playoffs. Right now the most important thing is how we’re going to play in the playoffs.”
Roy has stumped for his goalie all season to be included in any debates about this year’s Vezina Trophy winner in the NHL (best goalie), but he took it a step farther Thursday in his postgame press conference.
“I’m happy for him,” Roy said. “I appreciate what he’s been doing since the start of the year. There was a lot of question marks in the summer, and I think he has responded well. He works so hard. He was really determined to turn things around and play with consistency, and that’s what he’s been doing.
“He’s giving us a chance to win, but it’s more now than just a chance to win. He’s a difference-maker right now. He’s pretty impressive. In my opinion right now, he should be a candidate for the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP). That’s as high as I think of him right now.”
With their playoff spot already secured there’s been some speculation about the Avs’ remaining goaltending schedule.
Roy would, clearly, like to rest Varlamov as much as possible over the next nine, but second place in the Central Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason is still in the balance.
Roy said Thursday morning that he plans for Varlamov to start at least three of the Avalanche’s remaining games, including Saturday in St. Louis, Sunday against Pittsburgh and Thursday night in Vancouver.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is the likely start Tuesday at Edmonton, and Reto Berra is penciled in for Friday’s game in San Jose. That leaves a question mark for only the team’s regular-season finale Sunday, April 13, at Anaheim.
“We’ll see what happens for the last game of the season,” Roy said.
» Avalanche left wing Cody McLeod left the game in the second period after he got tangled in a puck battle near the end wall and fell awkwardly into the boards. He needed assistance getting off the ice and didn’t return.
“It’s his ankle,” Roy said. “Everybody saw that, but he’s a tough guy, and he wants to play the next game. For now it probably will be day-to-day, and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. We’ll know more tomorrow, the day after.”
» The Avalanche with the win matched Colorado’s 1996-97 team for the second-most wins in franchise history (49). Colorado’s 104 points are tied for the fourth-highest total in franchise history.
“Our culture is just changing, and we believe in ourselves,” Patrick Roy said. “We have a group that never gives up. Tonight was another solid effort by everyone. We played a good game.”
» The Avs improved Thursday to 28-4-6 in one-goal games this season, giving them the best winning percentage in the NHL (.737 percent), and Colorado’s 28 one-goal wins are also a league high.
Colorado has won five straight games—just one shy of its two season-long six-game winning streaks—and it’s done so all by one goal.
“We don’t want to make it a habit, but we’re a confident bunch,” said defenseman Andre Benoit, who tied the game 1-1 early in the second period with a forehand-to-backhand chip shot that got past Lundqvist's glove. “We believe that we can come back, and that goes a long way towards coming back. Tonight was another example of that.”
» The Avalanche finished the season 8-2-2 in their blue third jerseys.
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