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Avs Continue to Get Battle Tested in Stretch Run

Colorado lost 2-0 in a tight game vs. Boston, the defending Eastern champions

Saturday, 03.22.2014 / 1:54 AM / News
By Ron Knabenbauer
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Avs Continue to Get Battle Tested in Stretch Run
Colorado lost 2-0 in a tight game against Boston, the defending Eastern champions

The Avalanche is getting battled tested as the stretch run to the postseason continues.

Since the Olympic break ended, Colorado has been on two east coast road trip and has played physical teams almost every game that are fighting to make the playoffs or are fighting for positioning in the NHL's second season.

In their last five home games, the Avs have faced St. Louis, Winnipeg, Chicago, Anaheim, and on Friday night, Boston. For a club that has missed the postseason in four of its last five seasons, it has given the player's a taste of what the Stanley Cup Playoffs might be like.

"It's a tough schedule for us right now," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said of playing 13 games in 24 days. "We have been on the road a lot. A lot of tough games at home, but I think it will prepare us really well for the playoffs. I don't want to take anything for granted, but it will prepare us well."

The Avs entered Friday's matchup with the Bruins as the only team in the league that had yet to be shutout, but that mark came to an end in game No. 71 as the Boston picked up a 2-0 victory. Colorado went 80 consecutive games without being shutout as the last time it was held scoreless was April 6, 2013 at Phoenix (4-0).

The Bruins have only been shutout once this season, and that came in a 2-0 defeat to the Avs in Boston on Oct. 10.

Despite not getting any goals on the scoreboard, Roy said he thought his team had their share of scoring opportunities and was the better club for much of the contest.

"I thought it was very positive. We had a lot of good chances early on," Roy said. "We outshot them almost double at some point in the middle of the game when it was 2-0. Except for six or seven minutes in the third, I thought we played better than them."

The Bruins are the hottest team in the league as the victory in Denver extended their winning streak to 11 games and secured their spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with still three weeks left in the regular season.

Colorado outshot Boston 14-6 in the first period and held a 22-11 shot advantage with 8:11 left in the second frame. But the Bruins used a strong forecheck and kept the pressure on the Avs throughout the contest, even after scoring goals that just squeaked by Semyon Varlamov's pad and the right post in the first period and through traffic on the power play in the second.

“I think that’s the type of game we’re going to see, you know, a little more down the stretch," Avalanche center Matt Duchene said. "I think that’s an elite team that’s now tied with St. Louis for No. 1 in the league. You know, we still have got some work to do."

The Bruins are already battled tested, having made the playoffs in their previous six seasons and having reached the Stanley Cup Final in two of them. Boston won the championship in 2011.

"They know how to win obviously," Roy said. "It's a team that has played a lot of playoff hockey in the last [few] years. They certainly know how to play that game, and they did a good job."

The Avs didn't stop and kept firing shots at goalie Chad Johnson as the game went on, but the Bruins netminder stood strong and got some help form his defense that cleared pucks and forced tough shots and bounces the other way. Colorado seemed to go even harder in the final five minutes as it had an extra attacker on the ice and an empty net on its own end.

"These are tough games to play," Roy said. "I thought our guys were resilient. I thought our guys worked hard. They never gave up. It could have been very easy to be discouraged by what was going on, and they didn't show any sign of that."

The Avs have 11 games left in their regular season and will be facing clubs just like the ones they have been playing against the past four weeks – desperate teams in a playoff push.

"I feel every game is like that right now and every game we learn something new," Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "We are facing big teams coming up and some difficult opponents, but it doesn't faze us. We're just going to keep going at it."

STASTNY RETURNS

Paul Stastny returned to the Pepsi Center ice for the first time since he injured his back on the first shift of the March 8 game against the St. Louis Blues.

Stastny missed four straight games because of the injury before returning Tuesday night at Montreal. He sat out Wednesday's contest at Winnipeg because team doctors didn't want him playing in back-to-back games early on in his return.

"He was perfect in Montreal," Roy said of Stastny, "and he could have played in Winnipeg but it was a team doctor decision to not play in back-to-back, especially with the travel."

Against the Bruins, the Avs forward returned to his usual spot on one of the Roy's top scoring lines. He centered a line that had Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon on the wings.

BARRIE STAYS AT FORWARD

Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie made his debut at forward on Wednesday against Winnipeg, and he was back up front on Friday against Boston.

Tyson Barrie

Barrie played right wing on Colorado's third line with center Maxime Talbot and left wing Cody McLeod. He finished with an even rating and three shots in 17:26 of ice time.

"I thought Tyson Barrie played really well as a forward," Roy said after Friday's game. "He did a really good job. We need him on defense, I won't disagree on this, but at the same time I thought he did a really good job."

Barrie is one of the team's most offensive defenseman leads Avs defensemen in goals this season with nine. He's been playing forward while John Mitchell is dealing with a back injury.

Barrie has had a strong second half to his season as all but three of his 30 points this year have come since Dec. 16. He ranks second among Colorado D-men in points and is third on the club in plus/minus with a plus-14 rating.

MITCHELL INJURY UPDATE

Center John Mitchell missed his second consecutive game on Friday night and is still considered day-to-day with a back injury.

"John will remain as a day-to-day," Roy said. "It could be two days, it could be 10 days. There is not much we can do right now. Just wait and see what happens."

Mitchell hurt himself in the second period in last Tuesday's game at Montreal while trying to disrupt a shot. As he was trying to knock the Canadiens' Lars Eller off the puck, Mitchell got tangled with the Montreal player and hit the end boards hard with his back.

GIGUERE SET TO BE BACK-UP GOALIE IN PLAYOFFS

When the playoffs begin, there was no doubt that Semyon Varlamov was going to be the Avalanche's starting goaltender. But with the club having three goalies on its roster after acquiring Reto Berra from Calgary at this year's trade deadline, which one will be the backup?

Right now, it would be Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Roy said after Friday's morning skate.

"He's experienced. He's been in the league. Certainly could use his experience in the playoffs and Stanley Cup," Roy said of Giguere. "Right now I'm planning on having him as a backup. He's been good for Varly all year. Varly and him have a great [relationship]."

Giguere has appeared in 52 career postseason games and has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2003 and the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

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