DENVER – The Avalanche are embracing their role as spoilers.
Well back and way out of the playoff race, Colorado is making things difficult for teams in or contending for a playoff spot.
Because if they don’t play inspired hockey, they run the risk of incurring the wrath of veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere again.
Jamie McGinn scored twice, Giguere stopped 29 shots and the Avalanche prevented the St. Louis Blues from wrapping up a playoff spot with a 5-3 win on Sunday night.
Colorado is 3-0-2 against teams jockeying for post-season position since Giguere recently boiled over and bristled about his team’s lacklustre play. They definitely received his message.
“All it means is we can play against anyone in this league if we put our minds to it,” Giguere said. “If we skate, play the system the way it’s supposed to be and we’re on the same page, then we can compete against any team in this league. That’s something we should be excited about, something we should build on.”
Cody McLeod, Matt Duchene and Chuck Kobasew also scored for the Avalanche, who chased Brian Elliott from the game late in the second period. It was Colorado’s eighth straight win over the Blues at Pepsi Center.
David Backes, Jaden Schwartz and Kevin Shattenkirk had goals for St. Louis, which could have secured a post-season berth with a win over a Colorado team that’s last in the Western Conference.
After Elliott, one of the top goaltenders this month, gave up a fourth goal, the Blues pulled him in favour of Jake Allen. He allowed Kobasew’s third-period goal that gave Colorado a 5-3 advantage.
Giguere made the lead hold up down the stretch.
Elliott resembled the Elliott of three months ago, the goaltender scuffling in net, and not the one with an 8-1 mark in April along with a 1.01 goals-allowed average entering the game. He had three straight road shutouts before McGinn broke the scoreless streak midway through the opening period.
“We just didn’t play as good as a team,” Elliott said. “That’s not how we want to play. Obviously, it’s frustrating not getting the win and clinching a playoff spot like we had a chance to do tonight. That’s what’s frustrating.”
The Blues play the Avs again in two days.
“You can’t dwell on this too much, you have to take (the loss) for what it is and learn from it,” Elliott said. “This is not the time of year to have a team effort like that. From the goalie out, we have to be better.”
St. Louis was uncharacteristically careless with the puck, committing several turnovers that led to goals. The Mile High City hasn’t been particularly kind to the Blues, who’ve not won in Denver since April 12, 2009. Coach Ken Hitchcock said part of the reason is that his team tries to play a fast-paced tempo with the Avs, instead of their own game.
Colorado had the Blues in chase mode, especially after building a 4-2 lead after two periods. Giguere bottled up the Blues, but Shattenkirk made things interesting by scoring on a wrist shot from the blue line to make it 4-3 midway through the third.
Kobasew ended the drama by banking in a shot off Allen nearly 4 minutes later.
“Wasn’t one of our better games,” Hitchcock said.
The Avalanche’s recently inspired play has something to do with Giguere’s motivational rant—and even more to do with plain, old pride.
“When you go on a downward spiral like we did there for a while, it’s tough to get out of,” Duchene said. “You get in a terrible mindset that’s really hard to overcome.
“A little while ago, we accepted our fate and we started playing good hockey and knocking off good teams. It’s good to go into next season like this. We need to continue to press and play well.”
McGinn gave Colorado a 1-0 lead in the first period when his left skate deflected a shot past Elliott. The officials quickly reviewed the goal and upheld the ruling. It was the first road goal Elliott allowed in more than 200 minutes.
Backes tied the game when he coasted up the middle and lifted a shot by Giguere. But McLeod put Colorado back on top just before the end of the period, tipping a shot past Elliott.
These days, that hasn’t been an easy task.
Elliott has been a completely different goaltender since his return from a one-game stint in the minors late last month. Before he went down to the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League, he was hardly seeing any playing time and when he got into goal he wasn’t effective, going 3-6-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average.
But Elliott figured some things out and has been stonewalling opponents all month. His eight wins are the second-most by a Blues goaltender in April, one behind Brent Johnson (2001-02).
“Brian got rid of the anxiety of getting ready for a game,” Hitchcock explained after the morning skate. “He’s resurrected the season for us. He’s really been the story here in the month of April.”
Elliott’s turnaround also has coincided with the arrival of defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who was acquired from Calgary on April 1.
For Bouwmeester, the change of scenery has been quite pleasant, considering he went from a scuffling Flames team to a squad that could soon be headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s been fun. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Bouwmeester said.
NOTES: McGinn also had an assist, giving him his second three-point game of the season. … McLeod has scored four times in his last four games. … Backes had an assist to go with his sixth goal of the season.