DENVER, Colorado -- In spite of what you may have heard, this highly anticipated matchup between the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche did not have playoff intensity. (Sorry.) Fans remember the playoffs better than the average hockey analyst does. Even the least of the playoff games has an intensity that even the best of the regular season games cannot possibly match. This game was a treat to see, but it is nothing compared to what we will get in the spring, if all goes well.
That being said, this was a most excellent regular season game. It didn't matter that the Avs are fighting to make the playoffs at all, while the Wings are playing to stay atop their division and gain points towards the conference lead. The old rivalry was not quite in full swing, but it was definitely there, and will almost certainly escalate as we head down the stretch towards the playoffs. The play was intense by both teams, but the Red Wings stuck to their game plan, avoided most of the defensive lapses that have plagued them lately, and came out with a 4-2 victory over the Avalanche.
Maybe Colorado was a little bit nervous to meet the Wings again, after taking the 7-0 Game Seven loss back in May. Maybe they weren't. They couldn't have been pleased when the Wings opened the game the same way they started Game Seven: by scoring a goal on their first shot. The Avalanche failed to clear the puck from their zone, and Darren McCarty picked it up. Adam Foote dropped down to block the shot, but McCarty got the pass away to Kris Draper streaking up the left side. Patrick Roy had been watching McCarty the whole time, and turned his head just in time to see Draper put the puck into the wide open side of the net.
The Avalanche made some scoring attempts at the other end of the rink, but Detroit's defensive coverage was very good through the whole period. All attackers were covered, many shots were blocked, and Curtis Joseph was given a clear view of most of the shots that did manage to get through.
Mathieu Dandenault opened Detroit's lead early in the second. He had been given a tripping penalty at the end of the first which carried over. As he stepped back onto the ice, Kirk Maltby sent a strong pass his way, and Dandenault was off on a two-on-one rush. This time Foote did take the passing lane away, but Dandenault simply took the shot, and it sailed past Roy.
The Avalanche came on much harder in the second period, outshooting the Wings by 16-4 (Detroit had a lot of shots blocked or sent wide), forcing Joseph to work hard and show some of the skill he will need if he is to be a playoff goalie in the Western Conference. After a particularly spectacular series of saves by Joseph, Peter Forsberg made what looked like a harmless play, but it wound up in the net. He got the puck from Greg DeVries in the corner, then brought it right up to the side of the net and stuffed it into the tiny space left by Joseph moving his stick just slightly out in front of him.
Dan Hinote evened the game for Colorado early in the third. Dean McAmmond sped across the blue line at center and passed left to Serge Aubin, who centered the puck. Hinote was speeding towards the net, and the puck bounced off his stick and in past Joseph.
A bad line change by the Avalanche led to their undoing. Joe Sakic passed the puck back across the blue line to Foote, but Foote's replacement had already stepped off the bench, so Foote didn't play the puck because he didn't want the team to take a penalty for having too many men on the ice. In the confusion, Brendan Shanahan was able to sneak in and steal the puck. He used a pair of Colorado defensemen as a screen and wristed a hard shot between them and past Roy.
Joseph made a wonderful glove save against Sakic to keep the lead for Detroit with only 2:23 remaining. The Avalanche pulled Roy from the net, but the extra skater did not help them regain control against the Wings. Brett Hull made a strong pass across the width of the rink to Shanahan, and Shanahan put the puck into the empty net to seal the win.
Roy made 19 saves on 22 shots over the night, while Joseph made 36 saves on 38 shots. The Red Wings continue down the road towards the playoffs with a Sunday night game at home against the Northwest Division leaders, the Vancouver Canucks.
Notes: Luc Robitaille was a healthy scratch for this game, giving Sean Avery a chance to scrap with the Avalanche.... This was Patrick Roy's 999th career game. It could have been his 1000th, but he chose not to play in Colorado's last game. Hmm, could it have something to do with not wanting the possibility of having Brett Hull score goal #700 in that milestone game?