EDMONTON – It was far from the triumphant return Joe Sakic was hoping for.
The Colorado captain finally made his return to the Avalanche lineup on Sunday in Edmonton, but his comeback was spoiled as Andrew Cogliano’s third-period goal helped the Oilers come from behind to defeat the Avs 3-2.
Sam Gagner and Curtis Glencross also scored for Edmonton, while Tyler Arnason and Ben Guite replied for Colorado, which activated Sakic from the injured reserve list after he missed 38 games because of a hernia operation on Dec. 28. It was the longest absence of his career.
The 38-year-old said he felt fine returning from his long absence.
“Actually it wasn’t too bad,” he said. “A little rusty in the first period but I kind of expected that. But as the game went I started to feel more and more comfortable.”
However, he wasn’t quite as comfortable with the end result of Sunday’s game. Colorado (31-26-6) has now lost six of its last seven and can’t afford to continue sliding, sitting four points out of the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the West.
“You can’t give up games like this,” Sakic said. “The good thing for us is that from here on out most of our games are divisional games and teams we have to catch and we have to beat those teams. Games like this though, you can’t afford to lose these.”
Colorado head coach Joel Quenneville felt his team lost the handle on the game by letting up in the second with a 2-0 lead.
“In the second period we got away from it, we weren’t good at all,” he said. “We didn’t generate anything, didn’t have the puck at all and we turned it over in some tough areas. You can’t play like that, that was the game.”
The Oilers (28-30-5) remained marginally in the playoff hunt, now 11 points back of the Western Conference post-season cut-off.
“We could have faded away and let the game drift away but we came up with two big goals in the second,” Cogliano said. “We just battled back. We felt that we weren’t getting outplayed too much in the first period. We just weren’t burying our chances and they had some bounces.”
Oiler head coach Craig MacTavish says although things look dire, it’s still too early to count his team out completely.
“We want to run the table here in our five-game homestand and see where we find ourselves,” he said.
The Avalanche took an early 1-0 lead just 27 seconds into the first period as Arnason was allowed a couple cracks at the puck from the side of the net, somehow managing to squeeze it under the pads of Oilers starter Mathieu Garon.
Colorado extended its lead to two goals with seven minutes remaining as Sakic fed a pass from behind the goal-line to Guite who chipped a shot through Garon’s legs.
Edmonton had a good chance to get into the game with a minute-and-a-half remaining in the first with a flurry of shots in tight, but Avalanche goaltender Jose Theodore was able to keep the score 2-0 after the opening frame.
The Oilers finally hit the scoreboard just shy of five minutes into the second as Gagner picked up a rebound on an Ales Hemsky shot and deposited it into the open cage. It was the ninth consecutive game Gagner, a rookie, has collected at least a point, which is the longest scoring streak the team has seen this season.
“It feels great to be contributing,” Gagner said. “When you get a little more of an opportunity you want to step up and show the guys that you can contribute. With the added responsibility, I’m just trying to help the team win any way I can.”
Edmonton knotted the game up just past the mid-mark of the second as Kyle Brodziak deked around sprawling Avs defenceman John-Michael Liles and dished the puck to Glencross, who scored for the second consecutive game.
Edmonton took the lead 7 1/2 minutes into the third as Cogliano elected to shoot on a 2-on-1 with Gagner, picking the far left corner to make it 3-2.
Colorado nearly tied it up on a late power play with a chance at a wide open net, but Oiler captain Ethan Moreau dived to knock the puck away at the last second to preserve the win.
However the news wasn’t all good for Moreau, as the oft-injured forward looks like he may go on the shelf again after suffering a leg injury after awkwardly running into the boards as the clock ran out.
“He’s not good,” MacTavish said. “He’s in a lot of pain right now. It looks really bad right now.”
Both teams return to action on Trade Deadline Tuesday. The Oilers play the second game of a five-game homestand against Detroit, while the Avalanche continue their road trip in Calgary.
Notes: With their captain coming back in, the Avalanche reassigned forward T.J. Hensick to the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL. … It’s been good news for Colorado on the injury front of late as the team’s leading scorer, Paul Stastny, also returned from a month-long absence on Friday. …Although his point-streak is still active, Edmonton forward Sam Gagner had his streak of consecutive assists stopped at eight games, an Oiler rookie record. Wayne Gretzky had an eight-game assist streak in his first season but was not considered a rookie because he had played in the old WHA. …Before the game the Oilers honoured 40 local hockey players who recently broke the Guinness World Record for the longest hockey game ever played, going 241 hours.