DENVER, CO - MARCH 12: Marcus Kruger #16 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Nick Holden #2 of the Colorado Avalanche as goalie Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche defends the goal at Pepsi Center on March 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks managed to rack up 39 shots on goal Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough as Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche knocked off the Hawks by a score of 3-2 at the Pepsi Center.
The win was the Avs’ fourth in five meetings against the Blackhawks. Brad Malone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan O’Reilly all picked up goals for Colorado in the win. Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad tallied scores for the Hawks in a losing effort.
The game started out on a bit of a rough note for the Blackhawks, as Duncan Keith turned the puck over and then promptly committed a roughing penalty less than a minute into the game. Thanks to some stellar penalty killing work by the Blackhawks’ forwards, as well as defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Hawks were able to kill the penalty off though and keep the high-powered Avalanche offense in check.
Near the halfway mark of the period, the tide slowly turned toward the Blackhawks when Cody McLeod picked up an extra minor penalty after a fight with Sheldon Brookbank. The Blackhawks had several quality chances to score, including a Jonathan Toews attempt near the blue paint and a Patrick Sharp shot from the point, but neither player was able to figure Varlamov out, and the game remained tied at 0-0.
With just over a minute remaining in the period, the Avalanche scored on what had seemed to be an innocuous play. Malone picked up the puck in the neutral zone and made a nice move around a pinching Kris Versteeg, but then he was turned wide by a Hawks blue liner. Instead of just passing the puck around the boards and setting up the offense, Malone fired a quick shot from near the goal crease, and it somehow slipped under Antti Raanta’s leg pads to give the Avalanche a lead late in the period.
As the second period got underway, the Avalanche struck quickly. Johnny Oduya attempted to defend the middle of the ice with Hjalmarsson swung out to the boards, but the Hawks’ forwards were slow to come in to fill the void on the far side of the ice. Jamie McGinn then attempted a shot through traffic, but as it skipped off to the side of the net, Duchene was there to pot the easy goal past Raanta to extend the Colorado lead to two goals.
The Blackhawks failed on another power play opportunity just a few minutes later, with Nick Leddy picking up a great chance on a shot from the point that deflected off traffic and rang off the crossbar.
Finally though, it was Kane who got the Blackhawks back to within a goal. With a full head of steam, Kane picked up the puck near the red line, and then broke into the Colorado zone. He then pushed the puck between Jan Hejda’s legs, and as he approached the net, the Hawks’ sniper flipped a backhanded shot over Varlamov’s shoulder and just under the crossbar to make it a 2-1 game.
The two teams traded power plays in the second half of the period, but neither squad could capitalize. The Blackhawks did some brilliant work in killing off a Kane goaltender interference penalty, and the Hawks weren’t able to capitalize either as their puck movement suffered a bit in the closing minutes of the frame as the Avalanche took a 2-1 lead into the dressing room.
The Blackhawks continued to do most of the tempo setting in the early part of the third period, with Kane getting the best chance in the early going on a redirect attempt off a pass from Toews that Kane put just wide of the net. Toews also picked up another chance of his own on a puck that was loose in the blue paint, but the Avalanche defense was able to push the puck out of harm’s way and to maintain their narrow lead.
The home side got a golden opportunity to extend on that lead when both Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger were sent to the box within 30 seconds of each other, and just as Shaw was about to emerge, the Avalanche scored again. This time, it was O’Reilly doing the honors, getting inside position near the Hawks’ net and popping in a rebound off of a Duchene shot to extend the Colorado advantage to 3-1.
Despite the setback, the Blackhawks didn’t stop hammering away. Kane had a pretty shot from the slot that Varlamov was somehow able to muscle away, and then Bollig had a turn of his own as he made a wraparound attempt around the side of the cage. That puck slid away harmlessly from the net, and it appeared that the Avalanche were well on their way to victory.
With just over two minutes remaining in the game, and with Raanta on the bench for an extra attacker, the Hawks made things interesting again. After winning a puck battle along the boards, Saad skated toward the front of the net, and after a Shaw shot was stopped by traffic near the cage, Saad was able to slide the puck past Varlamov’s right leg pad to make it a 3-2 game with 2:17 remaining in the contest.
The Hawks’ final push saw some great opportunities from several players, but Varlamov and the Avalanche were able to answer all of them. Saad had a back-handed shot and then another shot from near the face-off circle that both traveled just wide of the net, but ultimately it was a nice play by Gabriel Landeskog that sealed the deal for Colorado. With Sharp at the point trying to keep possession alive, Landeskog made a diving poke check attempt that forced the puck out past the red line, and the Avalanche were able to run out the rest of the clock after that.
The Blackhawks will have little time to lick their wounds, as they will gear up to battle the lowly Nashville Predators on Friday night in another Central Division clash.