The Colorado Avalanche have been the successful surprise coming out of the Western Conference this season. Even first-year coach Patrick Roy is pleasantly stunned by the Avs’ work in 2013-14.
What hasn’t been so pleasant, however, are the Chicago Blackhawks’ results against Colorado. They’ve lost three of four to the Avs, and this could be a postseason opponent at some point. So on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks will try to solve a team that’s puzzled them more often than not.
What’s worked for the Avs this year? Obviously it’s a talented roster, albeit a banged-up one at the moment. Via the Denver Post, Colorado will be without PA Parenteau (knee) for a few weeks and Paul Stastny (back) may not play on Wednesday night. Still the Avs, who had a horrible 2012-13, have had this us-against-the-world attitude this season. Couple that with great goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and first-year coach Patrick Roy’s tutelage, and the Avs are, as coach Joel Quenneville likes to say, “dangerous.”
And entering Wednesday’s game, the Blackhawks are still just one point ahead of the Avs, who are in fourth place in the West. So what will it take to beat Colorado? According to captain Jonathan Toews, playing smarter – and tougher.
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“The last two times against this team we didn’t play well enough,” Toews said. “We have to play a tougher, smarter game than we have the last two times.”
The Blackhawks also have to be tougher on Varlamov. They were breaking through on him in their last meeting here, and it took plenty of pucks and traffic. They’ll need that again.
“Obviously they have a great goaltender and we have to keep doing the little things, get traffic in front of the net,” Brandon Bollig said. “(Ben Smith’s) goal, it just rolled off the wall and we had a nice cycle going, there was traffic and he put it in a good spot. That’s what we have to do to counteract their defensive play and goaltending. Hopefully we can do that tomorrow and get the two points.”
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The Blackhawks could be seeing more of the Avalanche this spring, depending on how the postseason plays out. But this isn’t about the playoffs; it’s about getting points right now to put distance between themselves and the Avs. The Blackhawks have to solve their Colorado dilemma sooner rather than later.
“They have a good rush game; it’s a quick, young team that likes to play with speed. The biggest thing is playing a full 60 and keeping it simple out there,” Brandon Saad said. “When we have turnovers, they go the other way and they usually bury the puck. We just need to keep it simple out there.”