Leighton stopped 41 shots and Tyler Arnason scored Chicago’s second goal of the third period with 1:40 left, helping the Blackhawks pull out a 2-2 tie against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
“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.”
With an assist from Nashville, which lost 4-1 to Anaheim, the Avalanche franchise clinched a playoff spot for the 10th year in a row.
Colorado scored just four goals in an 0-3 road trip last week, but 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 get a spark from Leighton’s play in the first two periods and picked up the offensive pressure to start the third.
Jim Vandermeer cut the lead to 2-1 with a short-handed goal 4 1/2 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 shoulder.
“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 good saves.”
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 post.
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 1/2 minutes into the second period.
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.
“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 BobBoughner.
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’s 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 on March 14 in hisfirst start for Colorado.