Avs must solve power-play mystery
DENVER ” The Colorado Avalanche ended one shutout streak and they’re sure they’ll have to halt another to avoid a sweep in the Western Conference semifinals.
Although Ilya Bryzgalov saw his shutout streak end just shy of 250 minutes, the Anaheim rookie goalie beat the Avs for the third straight time when Joffrey Lupul scored four times in the Mighty Ducks’ 4-3 overtime win Tuesday night.
The Ducks can wrap up the series Thursday night in Denver.
The Avs, hoping to become the first team in 31 years to overcome a three-game deficit in the playoffs, say the solution to ending Anaheim’s dominance is as simple as taking advantage whenever they have a man advantage.
Colorado is 0-for-19 on the power play in the series and 0-for-28 in its last five games.
The Avs stripped their power-play approach to the bare essentials after going 0-for-5 and 0-for-6 in Anaheim. They inserted Pierre Turgeon into the power-play unit to try to solve Bryzgalov, yet even with better special-teams play from Andrew Brunette and Rob Blake, things only got worse for the Avs in Game 3.
They went 0-for-8 and failed to produce pressure on two 5-on-3 advantages.
The Avs finally played at the Ducks’ pace but even at altitude, Anaheim outshot Colorado 39-29.
“I feel we had a better effort last night,” Milan Hejduk said. “We just didn’t get the power play going, yet. That would help.”
It’s downright essential, Colorado coach Joel Quenneville suggested.
“The objective has to be pucks and bodies at the net. Whether it is Blake in front or Brunette is in front. We have to blast away and get in front of them. Some of them will go in. That’s the recipe,” Quenneville said.
And it would have to be a major ingredient for the Avs to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders as the only teams ever to win a series after losing the first three games.
“It looks extremely bleak if you look at it from the outside,” Brunette said. “But when you’re inside and you’re playing you know you only have to win one game.”
One more win and the Ducks are going to the conference finals.
They were so loose on Wednesday that only seven players skated at practice while seven others, including Lupul, kicked around a soccer ball in the hallways of the Pepsi Center.
“We’re World Cup material,” Lupul said. “We’re loose.”
That’s because they’re playing such stingy defense, having killed 31 straight penalties.
“We’re playing tight as a unit,” Todd Marchant said. “We’re staying in our lanes and at the same time giving Bryz a good look at the puck.”
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has broken out the soccer balls all season whenever his team needed a mental break. “I’m sure every team carries a soccer ball. That’s the European influence,” he said.
“The players need their time to relax and to forget about some of the things that are transpiring around them. Kicking a soccer ball gives their minds and bodies an opportunity to recover.”
Being so laid back doesn’t mean the Ducks are … well, counting their ducks.
“This thing is by no means from our perspective anywhere near over,” Carlyle said.
“We know what kind of character they have in their room and the quality of their hockey club. They have been a resilient group all year and I would expect that they are going to play their best game of the series tomorrow.”
The Avs weren’t thinking about relaxing Wednesday. They were talking about playing with a similar intensity that Dallas did in avoiding a sweep by Colorado in the first round.
At least one Avs player has experience facing such long odds.
“I went to Army,” Dan Hinote said. “At Army we were never up 3-0. We were always down 3-0.”
Still, he said the Avs have been facing adversity all season and fully expect to rise up again, providing they can break through on the power play.
“This isn’t new territory for us,” Hinote said. “But we have a big mountain to climb.”
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