Second place never felt so good to an Avalanche team.
The Avs would rather be in first, of course, but on Wednesday night they took sole possession of second in the NHL's Central Division with a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pepsi Center.
Colorado now has 91 points and Chicago 90, with both teams having 16 games left to play in the regular season. Under the NHL's new playoff format, in which the second- and third-place teams in each conference division play each other in the first round, the second-place team has home-ice advantage.
Sporting the team's new "hard hat," given to a player after each win, Ryan O'Reilly spoke of how big his power-play goal, at 10:53 to give Colorado a 3-1 lead, was to the outcome, especially after the Avs had to withstand a late Blackhawks rally started by a goal by Brandon Saad.
"(Matt Duchene) made a great shot on net, maybe surprised him a little, and the rebound was just kind of laying there for me," O'Reilly said. "It was a high-intensity game. They came at us pretty hard there at times in the last two periods, but (goalie Semyon Varlamov) stood on his head for us."
The Avs took a 2-0 lead just 19 seconds into the second period on Duchene's 22nd goal of the season. Duchene roofed a shot past Chicago goalie Antti Raanta which, on the heels of a late first-period goal by Brad Malone, would seem to have given the Avs a lot of momentum.
But it was Chicago instead that became the better team the rest of the period. Chicago star Patrick Kane scored a highlight-reel goal at 8:23, beating Varlamov with a backhander to the short side after several pretty dekes down the left side.
The intensity went up several notches in the third period, and it seemed like both teams were playing with a home crowd. Numerous Chicago fans, with their StubHub tickets probably purchased a few months ago, made about as much noise as Avs fans.
The Chicago transplants got awfully quiet at 10:53 of the third, however. That's when O'Reilly scored a power-play goal.
With time running out on a 5-on-3 that started with 1:30 left on the penalty clock, Raanta gave up a juicy rebound on a Duchene shot from the corner, and O'Reilly, who had position in front, had an easy tap-in for his team-leading 25th goal of the season.
"You get a 5-on-3 in that type of situation in a game like that, you've got to score," Duchene said. "I think our urgency took over there for us. I just tried to put something on net, maybe go 5-hole on him, and Factor was there to clean up the garbage. Great hands by him to tuck it in."
Varlamov, the Kane goal aside, was tremendous in net for Colorado for his 33rd win of the season.