Denver Post – Apr 5, 2006 – Adrian Dater – There were two minutes to go on Monday, the Avalanche was down a goal but up a man, thanks to a penalty on a Chicago Blackhawks player. The San Jose Sharks had won their game and the Los Angeles Kings were winning theirs.

Two goals later, the Avs had a 4-3 victory produced by fear, desire, desperation and properly controlled chaos.

“It was like a light bulb went on over our heads,” said Avs defenseman Rob Blake, who scored the tying goal with 57 seconds left. “We had to have those two points. It was almost too late, but fortunately, we got it done.”

First, the mind game inside the game: For the first 55 minutes, there was quid pro quo. One team’s good play was matched by the other. It never seemed the Avs were that interested in putting away the woeful Blackhawks. Letups occurred after expenditures of effort. It was what Florida sports psychologist John F. Murray calls “the comfort trap.”

“It’s like cramming for an exam at the last minute, where you really intensify your focus and your performance goes up with it at the very end,” Murray said. “When you’re playing somebody you’re supposed to mop up, that’s when you want to have a little fear of failure. Talent plus effort plus mental skills equals performance, and if you’re relying only on the first part of that equation – talent – you’re going to lose some games you should win.”

The Avs got away with cramming at the last minute. Dan Hinote tacked on the winning goal with 12 seconds left. The question left begging: Why didn’t the level of desperation kick in earlier?

After all, the Sharks and Kings entered Monday only a handful of points behind Colorado in the Western Conference playoff race. A loss to the Blackhawks could have been troublesome to the Avs’ postseason hopes.

“But those really are the toughest teams to play sometimes,” Blake said. “They’ve got nothing at all to lose, so they play loose.”

Said Avs winger Andrew Brunette, who assisted on Blake’s tying goal, “For some of those guys on teams like that, that’s their

Stanley Cup Finals right there. Those can be scary games.”
Once a certain panic level set in for the Avs, how to accomplish their goal – tying or winning the game – had to be worked out. Luckily for Colorado, Chicago’s Michal Barinka blundered into a cross-checking penalty with 2:03 left.

Avs coach Joel Quenneville was going to pull goalie Peter Budaj soon anyway for the extra skater. But then he got a 6-on-4 advantage with Barinka in the penalty box and Budaj on the bench.

Rule No. 1 – and pretty much every number after that relates to No. 1 – is to control the puck.

“First off, you want to win the draw. You’ve got to get the puck, you’ve got to pursue it and when you lose it you’ve got to have more than one man pressure the puck to get it back,” Quenneville said. “When you get it, you want to keep it. You want to try and make direct plays and get it to the net.”

The Avs did everything to perfection in the 6-on-4 situation. Joe Sakic won a big faceoff at the end, the Avs’ point men kept the puck in on attempted clearouts and the forwards down low controlled the puck along the boards. It all added up to Blake charging in for the tying score, after Brunette created problems in front for Chicago’s defense.

“Hopefully, we learned a little lesson from that game,” Brunette said. “That was cutting it too close, and after the first minute (of the power play) I wasn’t sure we were going to pull it off. But our leaders really stepped forward and showed why they are leaders.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.