DENVER (Ticker) -- The stage was set for a major upset, but Chris Drury closed the curtain.
With the fans at the Pepsi Center silent, Drury picked up a loose puck at Vancouver's blue line and beat goaltender Dan Cloutier to snap a 4-4 tie.
"I didn't want it to go into overtime, where almost anything can happen," said Drury, who scored his seventh career postseason game-winner. "We wanted to end it right then."
His second goal of the night livened a home crowd that had seen the top seed play down to the level of the eighth seed, blowing a trio of leads over the final two periods.
"We weren't expecting an easy series," said Colorado captain Joe Sakic, whose team went 3-2 against Vancouver in the regular season and hosts Game Two on Saturday. "We always have tough games against them."
While Sakic and fellow All-Stars Peter Forsberg and Rob Blake combined for nine points, Patrick Roy gave up four goals on 23 shots as Colorado had trouble clearing Vancouver's forwards from the crease.
"They played well," Roy said. "They went to the net and that was their asset. To me, a couple of tips worked well for them."
Clearing the front of the net had not been a problem during the regular season for the Avalanche, who won the Presidents' Trophy for the best point total in the league after going 52-16-10-4.
They were considered heavy favorites over the Canucks, who ended the regular season with two wins in their last 17 games (2-7-6-2), are without leading scorer Markus Naslund and top playmaker Andrew Cassels and have not won a playoff series since 1995.
"We played hard tonight," Vancouver defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "But there's no room for feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking 'Yeah, we could have won.'" Despite their underdog status, the Canucks started strongly and never disappeared in their first postseason game since losing to the Avalanche in the first round of the 1996 playoffs.
Defenseman Mattias Ohlund scored on the power play 8:26 into the game to give the Canucks a 1-0 edge. They took the lead into the final five minutes of the first period before losing some discipline.
With defenseman Drake Berehowsky off for charging, Sakic beat Cloutier with a snap shot from the right faceoff dot with 4:38 left in the period.
Thirty-four seconds later, Ohlund was called for delay of game and Blake cashed in with a one-timer from the high slot for a 2-1 lead 3:24 before intermission.
Colorado was 3-for-5 on the power play after ranking third in the NHL during the season at 22 percent.
"Their power play is such a key to their team," said Cloutier, who made 23 saves in his first career playoff game. "They have four or five All-Stars out there and they will make you pay every time."
"We've got to stay out of the box and we have to do a better job of not putting ourselves in a position where the ref has to make the call," Jovanovski added.
Vancouver erased its first deficit 46 seconds into the second when Trent Klatt tipped Brendan Morrison's shot past Roy while standing unmolested in front of the net.
The Canucks scored all of their goals by putting traffic in front of Roy, the NHL's all-time winningest goalie and a three-time Stanley Cup champion.
"I have to be honest," he said. "I did not play my best game, that's for sure. But they did not make it easy on me."
Drury gave Colorado a 3-2 lead 5:35 into the period when he beat Cloutier with a rebound of his own shot while driving through the slot.
Ten minutes later, the Canucks tied it again as Bertuzzi skated from the bottom of the left faceoff circle to the near goalpost and deflected Denis Pederson's shot past Roy.
Rookie Jarkko Ruutu picked up an assist on Bertuzzi's goal, but he was called for elbowing with 77 seconds left in the second period. Sakic scored on the ensuing power play for a 4-3 Colorado lead.
"We took some very unnecessary penatlies today," Jovanovski said. "We just have to put ourselves where we have better body positioning and you are not going to have to take those penalties."
Colorado took the one-goal edge into the third, but Jovanovski beat Roy with a one-timer from the left side of the slot to tie it for the fourth time.
Jovanovski's second career playoff goal quieted the crowd of 18,007 for the next eight-plus minutes. But Blake backhanded a pass from center ice to Vancouver's blue line, where Drury skated past a collision and into the loose puck.
"Rob just kind of laid it out there, threw it on his backhand," Drury said. "It was in a perfect spot for me to get it. I don't remember what happened in the neutral zone. It was just a scramble for it."
Drury sped down the slot and avoided an aggressive pokecheck by Cloutier before hitting a vacant net with a backhander.
"I was a little bit out of my crease at the start of it," Cloutier said. "I got caught out too far, but when you are the goaltender in those situations, you do what comes natural."