DENVER – A Colorado Avalanche attack that had been dormant for much of the season has picked a good time to come to life.
The Avalanche have been doing plenty of good things – cranking up the offense is one of them -- during a winning streak that reached four games Monday night with a 4-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks at the Pepsi Center.
Colorado has outscored teams 17-5 during the streak and reached the 70-point mark – two more points than last season's total – to pull into a virtual tie for eighth place with Dallas in the Western Conference. The Stars have played one fewer game.
"I think it's a combination of everything," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We know what's at stake every time we play. There's 18 games remaining and knowing the situation that we're in, it's fun. It should be fun for the players; that's why you play the game -- to be playing meaningful games at this time of the year.
"Right now, it's a stretch where things are going pretty good for us, but we got to keep our foot down on the gas pedal. We can't let up. It's a tough conference and every game is so important. You hate to look at the standings, but it's human nature to do that. Like I told our guys, we can control our own destiny and we've been doing that lately. We've been taking care of our own business, and we if we do that, we'll see what happens.
"I like the way we're playing. I like the way the team's coming together, too. There's good chemistry on each line and in the room as well."
The Avalanche broke open a tight game with three goals in the third period. Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene scored 2:18 apart early in the period for a 3-1 lead and Jay McClement finished off the Ducks at 14:46 when he ripped a shot from the left circle that beat goalie Jonas Hiller high to the far corner.
"We're bleeding confidence right now, and it's easy to play like that," said Duchene, who converted Paul Stastny's pass on a 2-on-1-rush at 2:55. It was Duchene's first goal in five games since returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for 20 games. "It felt darned good, to be honest with you. I could have had it a couple times earlier in the game. I knew it would eventually come. Paulie made a heck of a pass to me, right on a tee for me.
"We've been a little snake-bitten this year. It felt like you almost had to pick up the puck and dive into the net with it to get it to go in. It's nice to get that one and hopefully it can keep building and keep progressing."
O'Reilly knocked a deflected puck behind Hiller at the 37-second mark to break a 1-1 tie after Steve Downie intercepted Ryan Getzlaf's clearing attempt. Downie's shot deflected off Gabriel Landeskog's stick and went to O'Reilly deep on the left side.
Acquired a week ago from Tampa Bay, Downie has amassed 2 goals and 5 assists in a three-game point-scoring streak. Landeskog chipped in with two assists to stretch his streak to six games (5 goals, 5 assists), while O'Reilly extended his streak to four games (1 goal, 5 assists).
"It took us a while to get some chemistry going," Downie said of playing on a line with Landeskog and O'Reilly. "We're learning pretty quick since we haven't had a practice yet, but there is a lot more to come from us. We haven't reached our potential yet, but we are definitely going in the right direction."
Said O'Reilly: "As a team, we're coming together. We know how important these games are and we're not forcing things. We're waiting for our chances and we're bearing down on them."
The Avalanche took a 1-0 lead at 9:26 of the first period on a goal by McLeod when Downie's centering pass bounced to him after hitting Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin.
Bobby Ryan scored the lone Ducks goal at 18:30 of the second period on a power play with a shot from the right circle that skimmed between goalie Semyon Varlamov's pads.
Varlamov stopped 27 shots and has turned aside 87 of 89 shots during a personal three-game winning streak.
The loss was just the second in 13 games and fourth in 25 games since New Year's for the Ducks, who remained six points out of the final playoff position with 19 games left on their schedule.
"They came out hard in the third and we couldn't respond to anything," said Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who blocked four shots but was on the ice for the Avalanche's first and third goals. "We need to think of the mistakes we made and correct them and get back at it."