The Colorado Avalanche won the battle for top place in the Northwest Division on Sunday, surviving a tense final period to hold off the Calgary Flames 3-2. Rene Bourque set up a Mark Giordano power-play goal to help the Flames (19-9-4) claw back to within one in the last period, but Colorado hung on for a deserved win after claiming a 35-21 shot advantage.
"Our line has gelled really well together and I think it's helped me gain some confidence," said the Avalanche's Wojtek Wolski, who scored the game's first goal at 13.05 in the first period. The 23-year-old Wolski also made an assist and leads the Avalanche with 13 goals, just one shy of his total for last season. Chris Stewart followed with a goal at 9:17 in the second to put the Avalanche (19-10-6) 2-0 in front.
"The more we play with each other, it seems the more we seem to read off each other," Stewart, who also had an assist, said when asked about the line of Wolski, Paul Stastny and himself. "Those are two world-class players I'm with, big-name players, and they make the big plays." Bourque cut the deficit to 2-1 at 10:34 in the second but Darcy Tucker broke a 17-game goal drought seven minutes later to restore Colorado's two-goal advantage.
The Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff had a busy night, making 32 saves with Colorado out shooting the Flames 20-6 in the first period and enjoying five power plays. "I think we were in the penalty box the whole first period," said the Flames' captain, Jarome Iginla. In Sunday's only other NHL game, the Chicago Blackhawks' rookie netminder Antti Niemi stopped 18 shots for his third shutout of the season in only eight starts as the Hawks cruised to a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I've never played so many shutouts," said Niemi. "I've had good stretches, but not like this." Marian Hossa had a goal and an assist for the Hawks, whose other goals game from Patrick Kane, Ben Eager and Jonathan Toews. In other NHL news, members of the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers toured Boston's historic baseball venue, Fenway Park, where they will meet on New Year's Day in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
As construction of the playing surface continued in the centre of the field, covering an area between first and third base, players speculated about being able to shoot a puck over Fenway's 37-foot-plus "Green Monster" left field wall. It was also suggested the teams' netminders, Boston's Tuukka Rask and Philadelphia's Tim Thomas, could be dispatched to left field during the morning practice on January 1 to field pucks bouncing off the Green Monster. "I'd love that," said Rask.
* With agencies