COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sometimes lucky bounces lead to big games.
The Colorado Avalanche got a gift goal on a bounce that went their way Friday night, and it led to a 5-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
David Jones took advantage of the bounce to score the first of his two goals and he also added an assist as the Avalanche stayed in the thick of the race for a playoff spot in the West.
“We felt pretty fortunate,” Jones said.
Semyon Varlamov, who had 28 saves in his third shutout of the season and ninth of his career, was outstanding in the first period as the Avalanche, winding up a stretch where they’ve played six of seven on the road, got off to a slow start.
In the final minute of the opening period, the Blue Jackets’ Colton Gillies’ shot from the slot clanged off the crossbar. The puck bounded all the way to the point where it was collected by Jones to begin a 2-on-1. He then converted a low wrister from the right dot that beat goalie Steve Mason on the stick side for his 13th of the season, unassisted.
That was the beginning of the rout.
“Getting the first goal was very important,” coach Joe Sacco said. “You get off to a tough start like we did, getting that first one’s very important.”
It was another body blow to the fragile Blue Jackets, who were playing their first game since trading two of their top players this week.
“The most frustrating part about this year is—how many times have we done that?—we’ve been physically dominating games and we let up one or two goals and we can’t recover from that,” said defenceman James Wisniewski. “That’s happened at least a dozen times. We hit a crossbar and they get a 2-on-1 and score a goal. Instead of being up 2-0 or 3-0, we’re down 1-0 and we never recover.”
After getting the first goal, the Avalanche poured it on to continue their mastery of the lowly Blue Jackets, who have the worst record in the NHL (18-36-7, 43 points).
Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie each had a goal and an assist and Matt Hunwick also scored for the Avalanche, who were up to their usual tricks against the Blue Jackets. They are 32-8-1-1 against Columbus, including 15-5-1-1 on the Blue Jackets’ home ice.
The Avalanche won a second game in a row for the first time since Dec. 31. They started the night two points out of the eighth playoff spot in the West.
Varlamov made the early break stand up by twice stopping Columbus captain Rick Nash—himself the subject of widespread trade rumours—to keep Colorado in command.
“I don’t think it was the same old song,” Nash said. “We played great for two periods. It was just their goalie made big saves and we didn’t bear down when we had the chances. I had two chances on one shift I could have scored goals.”
Varlamov said the Avalanche couldn’t afford to slip up.
“I feel good right now. I’ve had a couple of good practices. I have to continue to work and try to play well,” he said. “It’s a tough situation with four teams fighting for the last spots in the playoffs. Every game is huge for us. Every point is huge.”
Landeskog notched his 16th of his brilliant rookie season midway through the second period. He took a cross-ice pass from Downie and set himself for a wrister from the right dot that beat Mason high on the glove side just inside the far post.
The Avalanche pushed the lead to 3-0 on Jones’ second of the night early in the third period. Downie then pounced on a rebound and Hunwick turned a turnover into an end-to-end sprint to complete the demolition.
On Wednesday the Blue Jackets traded centre Antoine Vermette to Phoenix for a 2012 second-round pick, a conditional fifth-rounder in 2013 and injured goalie Curtis McElhinney. Then on Thursday night they sent second-leading goal scorer Jeff Carter to Los Angeles for defenceman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round pick.
Johnson arrived at Nationwide Arena during the second period for his physical and received a loud ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.
“I’m a Midwest kid. It’s great to be back here, close to home, close to friends and family,” said the Indiana-bred former University of Michigan star. “When a trade happens, it means a team wants you. It’s a great feeling to come into a place where they want you. I’m looking forward to giving everything I have to offer.”
Notes: The Blue Jackets called up RW Cam Atkinson earlier in the day, and he made his first appearance with the team since Nov. 5. … Scouts representing Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, the New York Rangers, San Jose, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay took in the game less than 72 hours before the trade deadline. … Colorado came in with the NHL’s best road power play but was scoreless in its only chance with a man advantage.