Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba draws comparisons to Dion Phaneuf for many reasons. Both played junior with the Red Deer Rebels, both can dish out big hits…and both can hammer a puck.
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov learned that the hard way Sunday night. A Dumba howitzer caught 'Varly' in the collarbone area during the second period:
Varlamov stayed in the game despite obvious discomfort but left with 5:44 remaining after allowing a goal to Chris Stewart. Early reports suggested a broken collarbone. Colorado coach Patrick Roy later said Varlamov sustained a lower-body injury. That version of the story wouldn't be much better, as Varlamov has struggled with groin issues this season. We'll have an update once his status is confirmed. Other reports have suggested Varlamov was only cramping, which is logical considering he was starting his 22nd straight game.
It's been a weekend of extreme highs and lows for the Avs. They announced Friday they'd lost talented yet underachieving sophomore Nathan MacKinnon to a broken foot for six to eight weeks. Varlamov may miss time, too, depending on what his injury is. On the other hand, this is one seriously hot team. The win over Minnesota gave Colorado four points in two days – all on the road. The Avs have won seven of 10 and now sit seven points behind Winnipeg for the second Western Conference wild-card berth. The odds are against them, but stranger things have happened.
Also working in Colorado's favor: Calvin Pickard. Whenever he's been up with the team this season, he's been spectacular. Pickard, 22, has a .936 save percentage in 15 appearances. He doesn't qualify for the league leaders but, if he did, he'd be tied with Carey Price for first in the NHL. The Avs, especially Patrick Roy, haven't been happy with backup Reto Berra all year, but they've kept Pickard in Lake Erie since Varlamov returned from his last injury. The Avs wanted Pickard to get a full starter's workload in the AHL rather than spot duty with the big club.
Now they may need Pickard to take the baton during the stretch run with Varlamov out. Pickard sure was up to the task earlier this season, so it's not a massive stretch to expect similar sparkling play again. The Avs are an analytics eyesore of a team that allows too many chances – they generated none of their own in the first 14 minutes of Sunday's game, for cryin' out loud – but, as Varly's 73 saves on 74 shots this weekend attest, they can win games when they get stellar goaltending. Pickard can still give them that. The playoff pipe dream lives, with or without Varlamov.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin