"This was all about heart and courage," Leighton said.
"Colorado is a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup. We
want to prove we can play with any team in the league. We might not
be in the playoffs, but we will hang in there until the end."
Colorado scored just four goals in an 0-3 road trip last week,
but the Avs seemed to get a spark from Peter Forsberg's return after he
missed 17 games with a groin injury.
The Avalanche had good puck movement early and plenty of good
scoring chances, outshooting Chicago 43-30 -- 11 by Joe Sakic.
But Leighton wouldn't let Colorado put the game away.
He faced 30 shots in the first two periods, making several
spectacular saves to keep the Blackhawks within two goals.
"Leighton made big saves for them to keep it close, let's face
it," Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. "We had a lot of quality
chances, a lot of great chances."
The Blackhawks seemed to be inspired by Leighton's play in the
first two periods, and they picked up the offensive pressure to start the
Jim Vandermeer cut the lead to 2-1 with a short-handed goal 4:10 into the period, keeping it on a three-on-one and lifting a shot in
off the crossbar. Arnason tied it by picking up a loose puck in the
corner, deking past Sakic and beating Tommy Salo over his glove
"We gave them life with the short-hander, and they made a
couple of plays and a couple of good shots when they got their
chances there," Granato said.
Chicago had several good scoring chances in overtime, but Salo
was solid. He stopped four shots in the period, including a
poke-check on Scott Nichol on a breakaway. Leighton was just as
good, stopping five shots in the extra period.
"They had nothing to lose, and they played like that," Salo
said. "It was pretty exciting. I think both goaltenders made some
Forsberg provided a spark right off the bat, setting up Paul Kariya for a one-timer in front of the crease on his first shift.
He later drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd with a pass between his
legs and had a stuff shot from behind the goal pin against the
Forsberg also had a hand in Colorado's first goal, drawing two
defenders along the sideboards before slipping a pass to Rob Blake
along the goal line.
Blake had two teammates to pick from and chose Matthew Barnaby,
who one-timed it past Leighton's stickside 1:29 minutes into the
Steve Konowalchuk made it 2-0 midway through the period,
punching in a rebound after Leighton stopped Sakic's one-timer from
the slot. The point was No. 1,400 for Sakic.
But that was it for the Avalanche, though they did become the first to join Detroit in clinching a Western Conference playoff spot.
"It's something we've got to learn to play with a 2-0 lead in
the third period," Forsberg said. "We kind of stopped playing, and
they came back. We played pretty solid for 40 minutes and gave it
up in the end."
Salo didn't. He was spectacular at times in his second start
since being traded from Edmonton on March 9.
He also made a diving stop late in the second period and crawled
back to his crease before the Blackhawks could get off another
shot. That one drew a standing ovation from the crowd and a big tap
on the pads from teammate Bob Boughner.
Colorado is 27-1-4-1 when leading after the second period.
... Chicago goalie Jocelyn Thibault joined the team for the trip to
Colorado and could play as early as Thursday against Minnesota.
He has been out since Nov. 7 with a hip injury. ... Sakic has eight
goals and 14 assists in 14 games. ... Colorado D John-Michael Liles
did not return after getting tangled with Nichol in the third
period. Liles' knee was caught underneath when Nichol fell on him,
and he had to be helped off the ice. ... Salo beat Phoenix 2-1 March 14 in his first start for Colorado.