EDMONTON, Alberta – It was a crucial point in the game where it seemed as if the Oilers had grabbed the momentum after scoring the tying goal. It was a point where the Avalanche's solid first period would be lost, but an opportunity arose for Erik Johnson and the Colorado defenseman took it.
Johnson brought the puck the length on the ice, made a slick deke move around Edmonton defenseman Jeff Petry and scored five-hole on Ben Scrivens for his ninth goal of the season with 2:50 left in the opening period. The goal stood as the game-winner as the Avs held the lead and won 4-1 on Tuesday night at Rexall Place.
"I just had some room to skate, tried to make a move at the blue line, and went in there and tried to surprise the goalie and go quick five-hole," Johnson said. "It worked out pretty good."
Head coach Patrick Roy has stressed with his defensemen to jump into the play this season if they have room and the opportunity presents itself. That's what Johnson did as he didn't face much pressure going through the neutral zone.
When he reached the blue line, that is when the nifty puck handling came as Johnson moved the puck between Petry's legs, went around the left side, regained control and attacked the net.
"I don't usually try and dangle the defenseman at the blue line but made a move and it worked," Johnson said.
The goal came at the perfect time as David Perron had scored on the power play 12 seconds earlier to tie the game at 1-1 while Johnson was serving an interference penalty. It was an unfortunate bounce for the Avalanche as Perron was looking to pass the puck across the low slot, but it instead went off a Colorado player's skate and into the net.
"When they tied it up, I'm sure they felt the momentum, even though it was a lucky bounce, I'm sure they felt the wind underneath their wings," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "EJ took the puck, took control and scored a nice goal. As well as it was a nice goal, it was an important one on the shift after they scored."
While Perron's goal was a tough break for the Avs, Roy said his squad was has done a good job this season of not letting mistakes linger throughout the game.
"We're fearless. Even if we make a mistake or give up a goal or something like this, we are just going back at it," Roy said. "We don't try and over analyze things. We just try and play our game and remain focused and what we have to do. Not what happened behind us. That's the attitude we have had since the start of the year. Seems to work well for us."
The Avs recaptured the momentum from that fearless attitude in which Johnson showed, and the team didn't let up.
"Anytime a team scores, and the other team comes out the shift after and scores right after, it's definitely a buzz kill and momentum killer," Johnson said. "We controlled the pace of the game for the entire game after that. Maybe that was the reason why, maybe not, but it definitely felt good to get the go-ahead goal at the time."
At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Johnson doesn't always get to show off his puck-handling skills one-on-one. So for him to beat an opposing D-man and then score, it was a moment he enjoyed for a bit.
"It was fun to make a play like that and score a goal like that at this level."
CLOSING THE GAP
And then it was just two.
With Colorado's win in Edmonton and St. Louis' 4-1 loss at home to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night, the Avalanche is just two points from first place in the Central Division. The Avalanche also holds the tiebreaker, regulation and overtime wins (46 to 43).
"We don't talk too much about the Blues," Roy said. "Deep inside we look at it and all of a sudden we're two points behind these guys, and we have the tiebreaker. You never know what can happen in this league."
The Avs are on a eight-game point streak (7-0-1) while the Blues have lost their past three games, which began with a 3-0 shutout loss to Colorado last Saturday.
The Avalanche sit in third place in the Western Conference with 109 points, one point behind second-place Anaheim (110) and two points from leader St. Louis (111).
Both Colorado and St. Louis have three games remaining with the Blues playing at Minnesota on Thursday and at Dallas on Friday before closing the season on Sunday at home against Detroit.
"It's not the most important thing, but we know what is going on," veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said of winning the division. "We knew what the final score was for the Blues tonight going into the third. If it happens, it happens and it’s a bonus. If not, it doesn’t matter. Every team that is going to be in the playoffs is going to be a good team."
Tuesday's win against the Oilers also expanded the Avs' lead on the Chicago Blackhawks for second in the division and home-ice advantage in the first round. Colorado is four points up on Chicago and will have a game in hand when playing its season finale against the Ducks on Sunday. The Blackhawks close their regular season on Saturday in Nashville.
SEASON FINALE FOR GIGUERE?
Depending how the next two games go and where the Avalanche is in the standings going into the season finale, Tuesday's game might have been the last one of the regular season for goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
If it was his last, it was a heck of a way to go out.
Giguere, 36, made 22 saves and the only puck to get past him came after a pass by David Perron deflected off an Avs player's skate in front and went in. Giguere had no chance at stopping the puck.
"Just like the rest of the team, he played a sound game, played really solid, and I think we played well in front of him," Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said of his goalie. "The 'D' were clearing sticks and bodies, and boxing guys out, and Jiggy made the stops he had to make."
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy's upcoming goalie schedule has Semyon Varlamov playing Thursday in Vancouver and Reto Berra starting Friday at San Jose. Sunday's season finale in Anaheim is to be determined, but if the Avs have a locked place in the standings then Giguere will most likely get the nod in order to give usual starter Varlamov some rest before the postseason.
However, if Colorado is still in a hunt for a division title or fighting off Chicago for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs then Varlamov would probably be in net to face the Ducks.
Giguere is now 11-6-0 this season and has a 2.62 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
HOLDEN THANKFUL FOR FAMILY SUPPORT
Nick Holden had plenty of fan support for him on Tuesday night.
A native of St. Albert, Alberta—located roughly nine miles (or 14.6 kilometers) northwest of the city Edmonton—Holden was playing in front of family and friends for the second time this season. In his first game in Alberta's provincial capital on Dec. 5, he scored his second career goal in his 14th ever NHL contest.
Holden didn't find the back of the net this time, but he did have a few close chances.
"Because we only come here a couple times a year, every time you come home it's special," Holden said. "You get to visit with the family the night before, go for supper, enjoy their company, and then the next night get to play in front of them, which is always special."
The defenseman had dinner on Monday night with his parents and other family members, and there was going to be a good-sized contingent of Holden and Avs supporters at Rexall Place on Tuesday.
Holden said he is just glad his family gets the chance to watch him play live in the NHL.
"Growing up they always give you so much support and love for your hockey," he said. "To see them at this level in-person is very special."
Injured Avalanche forward PA Parenteau took part in the team's morning skate activities and Roy said he is scheduled to play Friday against the Sharks.
Parenteau has missed the last 14 games with a knee injury he suffered March 10 versus Winnipeg. The original timetable was for him to be out 4-6 weeks.
Also, Cody McLeod missed his third consecutive game with an ankle injury on Tuesday night. Roy didn't say when the left wing and grinder might return, but McLeod did skate briefly before morning skate. He didn't participate in the team practice and is still listed as day-to-day.
Both players are on Colorado's four-game road trip through Western Canada and California.
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