Vrbata set up two goals before scoring the eventual game-winner as the Avalanche remained red-hot with a wild 5-4 victory over the Blackhawks.
The line of Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg totaled two goals and two assists, slightly below its average of 4.3 points over the last 12 games. Vrbata finally gave Colorado some scoring balance by matching his production for the previous 17 contests.
“Peter, Milan and Alex have been scoring so much. But we know that we have to chip in, too,” Vrbata said. “We have to have more scoring than just on our first line. And everybody knows we also have to step up and fill in while Joe (Sakic) is out.”
The Avalanche never trailed after Vrbata set up Steven Reinprecht’s goal midway through the first period and Tanguay’s 14th early in the second.
Chicago continually fought back, climbing within 4-3 on Steve Thomas’ 400th NHL tally with 5:55 to play in the second. But Vrbata answered 3 1/2 minutes later, beating All-Star goaltender Jocelyn Thibault with a snap shot off a 2-on-1 for his 11th of the season.
“I just got the puck and started to go to the goal,” Vrbata said. “I knew there was only one (player) back and it was (Steve) Sullivan, and he’s not a defenseman. I thought about throwing it to Devo (Greg de Vries), but (Sullivan) started to take that away. So I just pulled up, took the shot and it went in.”
Eric Daze again got the Blackhawks within a goal 5:14 into the third period, but a flu-ridden Patrick Roy made nine of his 27 saves over the final 20 minutes to help Colorado improve to 10-0-2-1 in the last 13 games.
“It was a night that I wasn’t feeling very good,” said Roy, who is 8-1-2 in his last 11 starts. “I am a bit run-down and I am fighting the flu. But I just tried to stay in there and play as hard as I could for the guys.”
“We’re not just one line and we’ve been playing well together,” Forsberg said. “That’s why we’ve been winning hockey games. Tonight we did not play very well defensively. … But it was very nice to see other guys stepping up and scoring.”
Sullivan had a goal and an assist for Chicago, which has lost four of five and remained three points behind Edmonton for the final Western Conference playoff berth.
“Forsberg didn’t hurt us too bad tonight, but both of his linemates had a goal. And obviously, they had other guys step up,” Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter said. “We had enough scoring opportunities, but we turned over a few pucks in our own zone.”
Sullivan got Chicago on the board 5 1/2 minutes into the second period, but Hejduk restored Colorado’s two-goal cushion 85 seconds later with his 32nd of the season.
Alex Zhamnov reduced the Blackhawks’ deficit to 3-2 at 8:38, but Serge Aubin answered for the Avalanche less than four minutes later, ending a 23-game scoring drought.
Thomas got his milestone goal with just under six minutes to go in the period when he put a wrist shot over Roy and under the crossbar.
“That’s pretty special, too, because I beat a pretty darned good goalie who one of these days will have his picture up in the Hall of Fame,” said Thomas, a 19-year veteran. “And that is a pretty good feeling. It would have been a little sweeter if we could have won the hockey game.”
Vrbata’s game-winner capped the nine-goal period.
“It was a different kind of road win,” said Colorado coach Tony Granato, a native of nearby Downers Grove, Illinois. “We made a lot of mistakes and they capitalized on them. But we had different guys that stepped up. The bottom line is we need to be better defensively.”