Colorado edges San Jose 5-4 in overtime
It was another puzzling game from a team that has wrestled with their fair share of Rubik's Cubes following the Olympic Break. A brilliant first period followed by a disheartening second, and then a nearly heroic response in the latter half of the third to tie the game. Back and forth the seesaw creaked and groaned.
San Jose's performances right now are like the new Double Down chicken sandwich-- it may look tasty as it begins and ends with chicken fillets and eleven herbs and spices, but ultimately, it is not good for you. Hard to survive multiple heart attacks in a row during the postseason.
The first period was a brilliant effort from the Sharks, as they took the play directly to the Avalanche and refused to let up. In Joe Thornton's first game back since sustaining a right knee injury against Vancouver a month ago, head coach Todd McLellan decided to reunite HTML in preparation for the playoff push. That strategy worked well, with the top line generating quality chances on net, and Thornton looked like he had never left. Sure there was the standard "put on the brakes before I hit the top of the circles and look for a cross ice pass" routine we have become accustomed to, but it was clear McLellan had stuck with his season long gameplan of letting injuries fully heal before throwing his players back into the lineup.
However, Dan Boyle has really seemed to have lost a step since coming back from Canada's gold medal in the Olympics. He is currently fourth in the league with 26:41 of average ice time per game, and that workload seems to have taken a lot out of his legs down the stretch. The skating pop he is known for just doesn't seem to be there right now, and if Boyle continues to teeter around the twenty six minute mark (and there's no reason to expect he won't), you really do have to begin to question whether this is an effective use of resources.
Douglas Murray opened up the scoring halfway through the first with a slapshot from the point that managed to find it's way through traffic. Less than a minute later, Torrey Mitchell fed the breakout with a nice play to spring a two-on-one into the Avalanche zone. Left winger Jamie McGinn ripped home a brilliant snipe off the far post from the left circle to put San Jose up 2-0, and it seemed as if the rout was on.
Unfortunately, San Jose's power play still had a chance to get some ice time.
In the dying seconds of the man advantage, Ryane Clowe attemped to execute a blind backhand drop pass to Vlasic at the point. The puck dribbled off Vlasic's stick as he fanned on his shot, and with Colorado coming out of the box, Ryan O'Reilly sent a pass up the ice to spring Kyle Quincey on a breakaway opportunity that would cut the lead in half.
The momentum shifted considerable from there.
San Jose's performance in the second period was no better than the end of the first, as Peter Mueller continued his torrid goal scoring streak since being acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes for Wojtek Wolski. Besides the newly formed fourth line of McGinn-Ortmeyer-Mitchell, who were hounding Avalanche puck carriers all night with a strong forecheck and speed in the neutral zone, the Sharks had trouble generating anything in the second frame. Much like the recent tilt against Minnesota, San Jose looked flat during the middle frame, and took a one goal deficit into the final twenty.
Things didn't get much better during the first ten minutes. Colorado came out and continued where they left off, as Paul Stastny's nose for the net turned up a power play goal just twenty seconds into the period. The defensive lapses continued, as Colorado's quick forward group managed to run circles around the San Jose defenseman, and pushed that same unit around on the low cycle.
As we've learned however, counting the Sharks out in the third period is probably not the wisest of ideas.
Dany Heatley proved why he is a clutch player, making two brilliant plays to set up both of San Jose's goals. He fed Patrick Marleau between the circles to cut the lead to one, and with five minutes remaining in the period, made a strong move to the net and put a blistering snap shot on top of Craig Anderson. Anderson couldn't handle it, and the rebound kicked out to the low slot where Joe Pavelski banged it home.
The last five minutes were playoff hockey at it's finest, with both teams battling for loose pucks in the corners. Unfortunately, Peter Mueller was a casualty of that play, as Rob Blake put him into the boards behind the net. I believe the NHL will take a look at this play before Tuesday's date with the Calgary Flames, and would not be surprised to see Blake suspended for roughly two games. Taking a look at the replay, Mueller's eyes are directed downwards and he has not made contact with the puck. Blake comes from the side and levies a shoulder into the side of Mueller three feet from the boards, causing him to fall awkwardly and sustain a undisclosed injury.
It wasn't an especially dirty play, but with the League beginning to crack down on hits along the boards such as these, there is a definite precedent here for suspension. Coupled with the injury (which has historically seemed to correlate with suspensions) as well as the fact Blake did not receive a penalty on the play (which has also historically seemed to correlate with suspensions), I think two games is a good estimate for what the San Jose Captain will face.
After the hit, Colorado and San Jose headed to overtime, but not before Ryane Clowe took a holding the stick penalty in the final five seconds of the third. The Sharks survived the penalty kill, but a deflection off the stick of John Michael-Liles rendered those efforts fruitless as Colorado inched closer to securing a playoff berth.
Tonight's game did little to alleviate the fears that San Jose is stumbling down the stretch for the second straight year, and the fact that it came against a potential first round opponent has also done little to soothe the weary souls of the San Jose faithful. It is quite strange really-- San Jose has seemingly decided to become a rather streaky team from period to period, dominating one second and looking flat footed the next. The hope here is that these issues are taken care of in this upcoming week filled with teams who are fighting for playoff positioning.
Something resembling a sixty minute effort in the next three games is essential to generate some momentum heading into The Months That Shall Not Be Named, because unfortunately, time is beginning to run out.
Tick tock boys. Go get it done.