VANCOUVER, B.C. – The rookie showed a veteran’s calm and put the Colorado Avalanche into the NHL playoffs.
Matt Duchene, who turned 19 in January, scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Avalanche a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. The win, combined with the Calgary Flames’ 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, punched Colorado’s playoff ticket.
Duchene beat Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo with a forehand shot after Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny failed to score in the shootout.
“I really enjoy that type of pressure and I was hoping I would get a chance to contribute some way,” said Duchene, the third pick in last spring’s draft, who leads all NHL rookies with 23 goals and 54 points.
“I was hoping it would maybe come down to me and I was going to be able to help out, so I was pretty confident going in.”
Many people picked the Avs to be cellar-dwellers this season. Instead, the win improved Colorado’s record to 43-29-7 for 93 points, good enough to nail down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
With three games remaining, including one against Los Angeles, Colorado can still overtake the Kings for seventh place.
“We talked about creating an identity with this team and we created it,” said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco.
Veteran Adam Foote praised Duchene’s maturity.
“He realized at a young age that he was counted on to be a leader and he’s got to make the right decisions out there,” said Foote. “He did it all year for us.
“The kid came in and played huge minutes for us. He never got discouraged and when I saw him up there (in the shootout) I said ‘this might be his time.”‘
It was a nothing game for Vancouver, which has already secured the Northwest Division title and the third seed in the playoffs. The Canucks didn’t show much emotion or spark until midway through the second period.
“It was frustrating the way played the first half of the game,” said Daniel Sedin, who tied the game late in the third period with his second goal of the night.
“I don’t think we started very well. Half the game wasn’t good enough. We have to be better next game.”
Kyle Wellwood said what many Canucks were thinking.
“It’s hard to get motivated to play,” said Wellwood, who along with Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kesler failed to score in the shootout.
Henrik Sedin earned an assist on Daniel’s second goal and stayed one point ahead of Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin in the NHL scoring race.
He has 107 points. Ovechkin had a pair of goals in the Capitals’ 6-3 win over Pittsburgh, giving him 106 points.
It was another night where the Canucks needed to play catchup. Goaltender Roberto Luongo also allowed another soft goal and at times looked to be battling the puck.
Turnovers continue to haunt the Canucks. An Alex Edler giveaway resulted in Darcy Tucker giving Colorado a 1-0 lead early in the first period.
“They turned the puck over at bad times and it cost us dearly,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “Our execution tonight needed to be a little bit quicker and a little bit sharper.”
The Canucks remain confident they’ll find their A game once the playoffs start.
“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” said Luongo. “It would have been easy for us to go out there and just go through the motions and for them to get an easy two points.”
Vancouver’s record is 48-27-4 for 101 points. The Canucks play the Sharks in San Jose Thursday and end the regular season Saturday at home against Calgary.
The Flames have 89 points with two games left and will miss the playoffs, as the Avalanche hold the tiebreaker with more wins should the teams finish tied.
“We can’t move forwards or backwards,” shrugged Vigneault. “We are going to stay where we are.
“It might be a little bit challenging.”
Mason Raymond, with his 25th goal of the season, also scored for the Canucks.
T.J. Galiardi and Paul Stastny scored for Colorado.
A sellout crowd of 18,810 saw Colorado hold period leads of 2-1 and 3-2.
The Canucks were without defenceman Christian Ehrhoff who is out with a strained left knee. Team officials said Ehrhoff, who leads the team by averaging almost 23 minutes a game, could have dressed if it was a playoff game.
Missing from the Avalanche lineup was Peter Mueller, who has nine goals and 11 assists in 15 games since being acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline deal. Mueller suffered a concussion Sunday when hit into the boards by San Jose’s Rob Blake.
Notes – Centre Ryan Johnson is out four to six weeks with a broken foot. …Defenceman Shane O’Brien returned to the lineup after missing four games for disciplinary reasons. …Vancouver has recalled left-winger Matt Pettinger from the AHL Manitoba Moose.