Now that he's gained confidence to go with those abilities, Budaj has reached that projection.
Budaj kept Colorado in it with 27 saves and Andrew Brunette scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period, helping the Avalanche end a seven-game losing streak against the Detroit Red Wings with a 3-1 victory Saturday night.
"You can see his confidence growing in every game," Brunette said. "He's giving us good goaltending every night. Confidence for a goalie speaks volumes and once he gets rolling he can take it for a while."
Budaj was steady as a fill-in late last season, winning 14 games as a backup, and played well enough this year to take over Jose Theodore's spot as Colorado's top goalie in late December. He's started 11 straight games and has won 15 overall -- one more than last season -- helping Colorado win six of its final nine games before the All-Star break.
The native of Slovakia made some big saves against Detroit early after Colorado came out flat and had spectacular stops throughout, including one while doing the splits to get a skate on a close-range shot from Niklas Lidstrom late in the first period.
"You look at his pro development and he just seems to get better every year," Avs coach Joel Quenneville said. "Down in Hershey that one year, the prognosis was that he would be a No. 1 goalie and he's gotten better and better every year."
While Budaj was solid, but so was Detroit's Joey MacDonald.
The rookie goalie was called up on Friday after Chris Osgood, Dominik Hasek's backup, came down with the flu and the rookie looked a bit like the Dominator in his fourth career start, flipping and flopping around the crease for 29 saves.
MacDonald made some tough saves during a Colorado power play midway through the third, but a shot by Brett Clark from the left faceoff dot popped in the air and Paul Stastny made a nice play to poke it to Brunette, who punched it in for his 17th of the season.
"I played a good game," said MacDonald, who has yet to notch an NHL win. "I settled down after the first period and was jumping at rebounds."
Valtteri Filppula scored the only goal for the Red Wings, who are certainly ready for the All-Star break. Detroit has played 14 games in 25 days and got into Colorado late after losing to Columbus the night before.
"We were running on vapors," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We had no emotions. We had no fire."
These two rivals played the first game in Denver after the Avalanche moved from Quebec in 1995, so it was fitting they were on the ice again for the 500th sellout in Colorado history.
The rivalry has lost some of its luster in recent years, but the milestone seemed to liven the crowd up a bit.
It didn't help Colorado early. The Avalanche got off to a sluggish start, spending most of the first five minutes in their own zone, before turning it on with a flurry of shots in a two-minute span midway through the first.
Laperriere broke through at 10:15 of the first, flipping a shot past MacDonald from his knees for his second goal of the season -- first since Oct. 29 against Minnesota. MacDonald stopped the initial shot from Karlis Skrastins, got his stick on Laperriere's diving attempt on the rebound, but ended up on his back, giving Laperriere enough room to lift the puck over his stick.
"I hadn't scored many goals and had been thinking way too much about it, so hopefully now I can simplify my game," Laperriere said.
Filppula tied it late in the first thanks to a turnover by Clark.
Trying to connect with Sakic on a long pass out of the zone, Clark instead put the puck on the tape of Jason Williams, who skated into Colorado's zone and fired a shot from near the blue line. Budaj got that shot and the rebound attempt by Johan Franzen, but the puck trickled through to the crease for an easy putaway for Filppula's fifth of the year.
- Colorado's Kurt Sauer played in his 200th NHL game.
- Detroit's Niklas Kronwall had to be a taken to a local hospital after suffering a laceration on his nose in the first period.