Over the past few games, the Colorado Avalanche have ramped up their offense and defense, and its increased effort paid dividends on Thursday night as it defeated the New Jersey Devils in the final minutes at the Pepsi Center, 3-2.
After the Devils came out in the third period flying high and scoring two goals, the Avs never let them gain an edge. With just a minute and 14 seconds left to play, defenseman Francois Beauchemin ended their campaign, as he netted the winning goal.
“There was a couple guys in front battling for a screen, and the rebound came right back right at me, and I was able to put it through,” Beauchemin said. “It was a good feeling.”
Throughout the first period, the Avs played ferociously on defense and hardly let the Devils get any shots on goalie Calvin Pickard. From there on out, however, the Devils rediscovered their intensity to give them a run for their money.
“The second and third were a little more difficult,” Beauchemin said. “They had a lot of pressure on us, and we didn’t generate much offensively, but defensively I thought we made some big saves. After that, they came out in the third with two quick ones. We were able to put that one in at the end and it was a good feeling.”
Head coach Jared Bednar attributed the difference in effort to exhaustion, which wasn’t surprising after the high pace at which the Avalanche played during the first 20 minutes.
“I liked our first period, liked it a lot,” Bednar said. “Second period and third period, I thought we looked tired. They started getting first to the pucks, they were outworking us. I thought we outworked them in the first, but they outworked us in the final 40 minutes.”
But when the Devils’ offense came knocking with a battering ram, the Avalanche defense stepped it up in the crucial final minutes to lock them out for good.
“I think this season we’ve had problems generating offensively, so if we play well defensively, I know it’s a saying that good defense leads to good offense, and I think we saw that tonight,” defenseman Mark Barberio said. “We took care of the D-
zone and we were opportunistic with our chances.”
A lot of that defensive credit went to Pickard, who weathered 27 shots throughout the matchup and stopped 25 in their tracks.
“He was great, making big saves,” Barberio said. “I thought he handled the puck really well, too, behind the net. He was a calming presence back there and we know we can get that kind of performance from him night in and night out.”
The Avs moved to 19-44-3 on the season, and the Devils dropped to 25-30-12. Bednar believes that if the Avalanche hope to keep this momentum moving forward, they’ll have to rely on their defense to get the job done. The team returns to the Pepsi Center on Saturday, March 11 as it hosts the Ottawa Senators at 5 p.m.
“I think our guys are real committed to what we’re doing,” Bednar said. “We’re doing a better job arriving in the D-zone with our numbers,” Bednar said. “Last night we were really good, tonight we were okay. We just weren’t as good at getting to the red line and creating off the rush today as we were last game.”