ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Jose Theodore can’t recall ever playing better than he is right now.
Theodore has held the Minnesota Wild scoreless in the first 40 minutes of both games of their first-round series so far and feels locked in, like he can almost anticipate what the shooters are going to do with the puck.
Now, if Theodore could just clamp down in the third period the Colorado Avalanche would be feeling a lot better about themselves as the series shifts to the Pepsi Center for Game 3 on Monday night.
“In the playoffs, you want to try to keep your team in the game early on,” Theodore said. “When you’re focused, you don’t really count shots or you don’t see time go by. You just try to hang in there and freeze pucks and make big saves.”
Four of the five goals he’s allowed in the playoffs so far have come in the third period, and the other was in overtime Friday night, when Keith Carney’s goal sent the Wild to Colorado with the series tied 1-1.
Carney’s goal deflected off defenceman Ruslan Salei’s skate and scooted past a helpless Theodore.
“He knows I’m not trying to score on him. We just said, ‘It’s an unfortunate bounce for us,”‘ Salei said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to focus on the next game.”
The third period has been the Avs’ undoing. They led 2-0 going into the final 20 minutes in the first game, before pulling out a 3-2 win in overtime on Joe Sakic’s eighth career overtime winner in the playoffs.
Then, in Game 2, Colorado squandered a 1-0 lead before losing 3-2 in overtime.
“Jose is a very talented goalie,” defenceman John-Michael Liles said. “He’s just a guy you really trust back behind you. If there is a mistake, he’s going to bail you out for sure.”
Niklas Backstrom has been equally solid in goal for the Wild. He realizes there’s no margin for error in this series with goals coming at a premium.
“Every shot, every second, every shift counts and you have to be up for it,” Backstrom said. “It is mentally tough. You do everything for the team – to give your team a chance to win.”
The Avalanche have come to expect steady goaltending this time of year. They had one of the best minding the net in Patrick Roy when they won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and again in 2001. Roy was 151-94 with a 2.30 goals-against average in the post-season.
Asked about the difference between Theodore and Roy in goal and Sakic broke into a grin.
“Theo’s a lot more laid back than Patrick,” Sakic said. “Patrick, he’s very focused and he really prepared himself like that. Theo just relaxes out there. They’re pretty different.”
Still, both goalies have one thing in common – turning up their play in crunch time.
“I always saw myself as a guy that was ready in the playoffs,” said Theodore, the 2001-02 Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s MVP. “I’m working hard and have confidence. I think it’s about continuing the same way I played during the season.”
Theodore finished off the season as one of the hottest goaltenders in the league. His 2.24 GAA since Jan. 1 was tied for fifth-best in the league.
“He seems composed. He seems confident,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “He recaptured his confidence from his earlier days. That’s the thing we were hoping he could reacquire.”
Not bad for someone who was demoted last season. He lost his job to Peter Budaj, but didn’t pout, just tried to earn his spot back through hard work.
That impressed his teammates.
“Even with the tough times, he had a great attitude,” Liles said. “He’s a terrific guy to have in net.”
Sakic couldn’t agree more.
“He’s been playing at a top level for most of the year,” Sakic said. “So, we’ve come to expect it. At this level, you can’t go anywhere without great goaltending. He’s been unbelievable for us. I can’t say enough about him.”
Notes: Colorado forwards Peter Forsberg and Ian Laperriere didn’t skate with the team Sunday. “Maintenance day for the guys who didn’t skate,” Quenneville said. “Everybody’s likely to play.” … Wild defenceman Nick Schultz, who had an appendectomy last week, skated again Sunday. “I am surprised that he skated so early after the operation,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “He skated, but he’s not ready to have physical activities. He’s skating and shooting pucks, which is good for us.”