DENVER – Looking to bounce back from a particularly ugly loss, the Colorado Avalanche spent time before the game talking about the importance of getting off to a good start. They really outdid themselves.
Chris Stewart scored 21 seconds into the game, opening a four-goal flurry in the first period that carried the Avalanche to a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
“It was an ideal start, kind of the start every team dreams of,” said Milan Hejduk, who had two assists in the scoring spree and put the finishing touch on the game with a late goal. “You can’t get much better. We absolutely controlled the game.”
Colorado set the tempo in no time, well, almost, and goalie Craig Anderson, who had 28 saves, figured in the opening salvo. He got a rare assist as a result of his block of Kristian Huselius’ game-opening shot. Anderson sent the rebound out along the boards, where Wojtek Wolski popped it out into the open to the streaking Stewart, who completed the breakaway with a backhand shot past goalie Steve Mason.
“You can get on the scoreboard in more ways than one,” Anderson said. “It was just a matter of getting lucky. I was able to get the rebound out, our guys picked it up and caught their defence flat-footed. Wolski made a nice pass to Stewart and Stewart finished.”
The score was among the fastest to start a game in team history, but still 13 seconds shy of the quickest. Antti Laaksonen scored eight seconds into a game, also against Columbus, on Feb. 10, 2006. That’s also the quickest goal ever allowed by Columbus.
It was in stark contrast to Colorado’s last game, a 6-1 loss to Washington on Tuesday night in which the Avs fell behind early by three goals.
“We knew they were going to come out physical,” said Columbus forward Rick Nash. “They got dominated the last game and they were going to be pretty mad and come out flying. We had to match it and we didn’t.”
Wolski added two goals for Colorado, boosting his team-leading total to 15 on the season with his eighth career multigoal game. His second goal came on a power play with 4:15 elapsed, after which Mason was pulled from the net in favour of backup Garon Mathieu. It was the earliest of five mid-game benchings this season for Mason, who faced seven shots before exiting.
But Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said his team’s tentativeness, rather than Mason’s play, was primarily at fault for his squad’s poor showing.
“I don’t know how you can blame Mason for the goals,” he said. “First shift of the game, you give up a breakaway after a glorious scoring opportunity. Second shift of the game, you get scored on. You hit the goal post, they get an odd man rush and score. It’s our tentativeness. It’s been going on all year, to be honest with you. This is a game of initiation. You can’t play on your heels.”
The Avalanche went up 4-0 little more than eight minutes into the game. John-Michael Liles, during a scramble for the puck in front of the net, poked it through. It was Colorado’s fifth goal scored on a 5-on-3 power play this season, tying Toronto for most in the NHL.
Hejduk, back in the lineup after missing the previous two games with a knee injury, scored Colorado’s final goal, with 3:28 remaining, taking Matt Duchene’s pass from behind the net and knocking it through for his 13th goal of the season.
Columbus, in a 2-9-5 slide since opening the season 12-6-2, finally broke through for a goal at 3:29 of the second on R.J. Umberger’s power-play score that he backhanded past Anderson.
The Blue Jackets had another power-play score when Jason Chimera beat Anderson at 13:24 of the second.
NOTES: Wolski also scored two goals Oct. 27 at Edmonton. … Colorado’s Marek Svatos missed a third game because of a groin injury. … Forward Brandon Yip made his NHL debut for the Avs. He’s the sixth Colorado player to make his league debut this season, more than any other NHL team. … The last time Mason was pulled from a game was during a 6-3 loss to Toronto at Columbus on Dec. 3. … Chimera has scored a point in six of his last nine games. … Columbus lost the first in a four-game trip, dropping its road record to 6-9-3.