DENVER (AP) – Jan Hejda didn’t blink when he found himself open near the blue line late in a tie game.
No, he simply shut his eyes and shot.
After all, isn’t that what all the goal scorers do?
The Colorado defenseman scored his first goal of the season – not that he even got to see it – with 7.6 seconds remaining to help the Avalanche rally for a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
“Simple – closed my eyes and shot,” Hejda said.
Hey, whatever works, right?
Cory Schneider hardly even had a chance, especially with so much traffic in front of the net. The Vancouver goaltender looked left and then peered to the right for a better angle of Hejda circling near the point. By the time he caught sight of Hejda’s stick going back, it was already too late, the fans were cheering Colorado’s comeback.
“Never really saw it,” said Schneider, who was making his return to the net after missing a game because of the flu. “A quick developing play and all of a sudden it’s in the back of the net.”
Gabriel Landeskog, Cody McLeod and P.A. Parenteau also scored as the Avalanche beat the Canucks for the first time since Jan. 18, 2011.
Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Jason Garrison had goals for the Northwest Division-leading Canucks , who surrendered the lead twice in the final 20 minutes. That’s very uncharacteristic and “very frustrating,” Garrison said.
“Obviously, that’s not the way we wanted to end it,” Garrison added. “They capitalized on their opportunities.”
The Avalanche are still capitalizing on a motivational scolding from veteran goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. He recently called his teammates out for their uninspired play in a season that’s spiraled out of control. Giguere was irate since some players were more concerned about their vacation plans to Las Vegas than playing hockey.
Since his rant, the Avs have picked up their intensity, winning in Anaheim, losing in a shootout to the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in Los Angeles and rallying back to snap a 10-game winless streak against Vancouver.
Too bad Giguere didn’t say something sooner. Colorado is on the cusp of being officially eliminated from the postseason for a third straight season.
“I felt we were only going through the motions. This is not the team we want to be,” explained Giguere, who made 24 saves. “We want to build something for the future here. … This wasn’t the year we were expecting. We only have ourselves to blame for that.”
Moments after McLeod tied it for the Avalanche early in the third period, Garrison put the Canucks back on top with a shot that found a small gap between Giguere’s left skate and the goal post.
The Avalanche came right back, though, throwing rush after rush at Schneider. That pressure eventually paid off when Matt Duchene sent a pass into the middle of the ice that Parenteau tipped in between Schneider’s pads.
The contest looked like it was headed for overtime before Hejda scored the inner. His last goal was March 6, 2012, against Minnesota.
“I’m just trying to shoot a one-timer,” Hejda explained.
The Canucks took a 2-1 lead in the second period with two quick goals – both courtesy of defensive breakdowns. Lapierre scored when Ryan O’Reilly made a bad clearing pass and, 2:14 later, Hansen tapped in a shot in front of the goal after Greg Zanon took a bad angle on a puck.
It was Hansen’s first goal in 12 games.
Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa made a pass in the opening period he’d like to have back. Scrambling for control of the puck in the corner near his own net, Bieksa threw it toward a player streaking toward the goal. Only, it was Landeskog, who corralled the puck and lined it over Schneider to give the Avs a 1-0 lead before most of the fans had time to settle into their seats.
“”We know they are a very good team,” Hansen said. “They have a lot of skill and execute in their transition, but you don’t make the right plays, they are going to put it back in your net. We saw that today.”
Captain Henrik Sedin was hardly pleased with his team’s play, especially this close to the postseason.
“We maybe thought they were going to fold, but they came out hard, they out-competed us,” Sedin said. “That can’t happen. That is why they beat us.
“I think we stopped competing. That’s the only thing that happened.”
Notes: Giguere picked up his 250th win, tying Hall of Famer Johnny Bower for 45th place on the career list. … The Avalanche announced Friday they will retire No. 52 in honor of longtime D Adam Foote during a ceremony next season. Foote helped the franchise win Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001. … Canucks F Daniel Sedin appeared in his 900th NHL game.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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