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DENVER – Semyon Varlamov was the guy in the pads for Colorado, stopping a season-high 47 shots in its 3-2 win over the Sharks.
But, he had plenty of help from his teammates in the defensive zone, too. The Avalanche blocked an additional 25 Sharks shots, and allowed only a Joe Pavelski power play goal and a Dan Boyle marker on a great pass from James Sheppard in holding off San Jose. After finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL last season, Colorado clinched a playoff spot with the win.
[RELATED: Instant Replay: Sharks fall to Avalanche 3-2]
From the Sharks’ perspective, credit was given to Colorado’s commitment level, but it was the first few minutes of the loss that irked them more than anything. That includes head coach Todd McLellan.
“Right off the bat, we’re not engaged, we’re not ready to play,” McLellan said. “Physically, we didn’t engage on the first goal, and it’s one we’d like to have back. Then you think about the second one – right through a glove, and a breakaway. If you can take those two moments out of the game, we don’t need to get to three.”
Pavelski said: “We’d like a few plays back I think, early in the game. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Pavelski’s misplay on the first goal stands out, when he lost Paul Stastny as the forward cut to the net from along the wall. Alex Stalock failed to seal off the post, but Pavelski simply lost track of his man just one minute and 33 seconds into the game, and couldn’t wrap him up in time before he whacked in a pass from Gabriel Landeskog.
Alex Stalock took some responsibility, too.
“It snuck in. That’s one I have to have. It sucked that it was early and they got the lead early,” he said.
Pavelski atoned for the early lapse with a power play goal less than two minutes later, tying the game at 1-1, but Colorado captured the lead again when Boyle misplayed a puck at the blue line. Attempting to snag it out of the air, Boyle let it drop to the ice surface, where a swooping Cody McLeod gathered it in and raced ahead for a shorthanded breakaway marker at 10:34.
Boyle looked like he wanted to smash his stick over the crossbar just after McLeod angled it though Stalock's five-hole.
“I took my eye off the puck for a fraction of a second to make sure I wasn’t going to get drilled. I just got a piece of it and missed it,” Boyle said. “It’s an unfortunate bounce. I was obviously very upset. These things happen. It’s unfortunate.”
Just like Pavelski, though, Boyle made up for the error when he deposited his second goal in as many games in the second period to make it 2-2. The Sharks applied tremendous pressure on the Avalanche from the middle of the first period on, but Colorado’s skaters and its goaltender didn’t panic.
The Sharks had 87 shot attempts in all, to Colorado’s 33. John Mitchell’s second period power play goal held up as the game-winner, though. San Jose is just 1-2-2 in its last five.
McLellan said: “We’ll have to look at the sightlines, the second chance opportunities. We were in their end. We had the puck a lot. But, give Varlamov credit.”
“They’re in the fight for [playoff] positioning as well, and guys were committing, as most teams are these days, [to] blocking shots,” Boyle said. “They blocked a lot of them tonight. That’s just a team that’s committed to winning, and that’s why they’re in the position they’re in right now.”
Despite the nearly constant pressure, and the power play continuing to round back into form, the Sharks are now in serious danger of losing their grip on the Pacific Division lead. Anaheim could re-take that title with just one point later on Saturday night in Vancouver, and will still have two games in hand - and the tiebreaker - after that one concludes.
“I think we all know what we’re playing for,” Pavelski said. “We want that home ice as much as anybody around the league. We’re going to play our best, and try to get our game to where we need it to be, and then go from there. We’ve got to stay the course.”