DENVER – Closing the deal on the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot is becoming quite a struggle for the Colorado Avalanche.
They ran into another setback Wednesday night, victimized by an Anaheim Ducks team trying to keep its own slim playoff hopes alive.
Jason Blake had a goal and four assists to match his career high with five points, and Saku Koivu added a goal and three assists in Anaheim’s 5-2 victory over Colorado. The victory moved the Ducks within seven points of the Avalanche.
“Obviously, that was a huge game for them, but at the same time, it was a game that for us, by winning, we still have a chance,” Koivu said. “There’s still a couple teams between us and them, so it’s going to be a battle to the end and we just have to keep pushing it and see what happens.”
Colorado’s hold on the West’s final playoff berth grew more precarious after the Avalanche lost for the sixth time time in seven games, including the last three straight.
The Calgary Flames are the Avalanche’s closest pursuer, pulling within two points after beating Phoenix 2-1 later Wednesday night. Colorado will host the Flames on Friday night in a game pivotal to both clubs.
“Everyone’s got to take a deep breath and remember what we did to get here,” Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote said. “We just have to regroup. The last few games we’ve been forcing plays too early and getting off our game. Seems like the plays we force end up in our net.”
Colorado goalie Craig Anderson said his team is capable of a quick turnaround.
“We’re still leading the race, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “Destiny is in our own hands. We control our own fate. We win Friday, we’re looking pretty good.”
Not so good on Wednesday, though and Colorado’s struggles coincide with a surge by Anaheim. The Ducks have won seven of nine, including their last three wins with Curtis McElhinney in goal in place of ailing starter Jonas Hiller (back spasms). McElhinney made 27 saves.
“The good thing for us is we’re not even worried about who we’re playing right now,” Blake said. “We’re just worried about ourselves. If we keep playing the way we’re playing, and the goal tending has been great, it’s giving us a chance every night.”
For a moment, it appeared Colorado struck first but officials ruled Cody McLeod’s shot into the net 6:13 into the game was a no-goal because he struck the puck with a high stick. The call was confirmed by video replay.
“Obviously, that was a big break for us and it took a little momentum from their side,” Koivu said of the disallowed goal.
The offensive frustrations mushroomed from there for Colorado. Midway through the second period, Matt Duchene’s stick broke as he took a shot in the open from up close, resulting in missed scoring chance. Early in the third, Milan Hejduk, who had scored Colorado’s first goal, missed a shot wide with an open net.
Anaheim moved in front 1-0 on Steve Eminger’s third goal of the season. Koivu dug the puck out from behind the behind the net and got it out to the point, where Eminger unleashed a slap shot to beat Craig Anderson.
The Ducks made it 2-0 by capitalizing on a Colorado turnover at the blue line. Blake picked up the loose puck and drove down the ice before passing to the streaking Koivu. He knocked the puck into the net for his 16th of the season with four seconds remaining in the first period.
Colorado closed within a goal on Hejduk’s power play score at 13:22 of the second but Anaheim rebuilt its cushion when Scott Niedermayer put in his 10th of the year with 30 seconds left in the period, driving the puck past Anderson with a side shot from the lower left circle.
Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne finished an odd man rush early in the third period with his 22nd goal of the season.
Darcy Tucker had Colorado’s other goal at 13:26 of the third.
NOTES: Selanne, who scored his 600th career goal in a March 21 victory over Colorado, tied Jari Kuri (601) for 17th on the career list. “Six hundred was bigger for me, but 601 is huge, too, because Jari was my idol. I feel very honoured,” Selanne said. … Hejduk has eight goals in 12 games since returning from knee and back injuries. … Anaheim is 7-1 against Colorado since Nov. 24, 2008.