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Avalanche Ride 'Team' Mentality in Dallas Win

by Scott Ward / Colorado Avalanche

Four players scored goals and five players had assists for the Avalanche on Monday night in Dallas.

Those four scorers and those five helpers were all different players—there was no crossover—as nine Avs contributed to Colorado’s 4-3 win, its fourth in five games this season against the Stars.

Nathan MacKinnon, Jamie McGinn, Paul Stastny and Alex Tanguay all dented the net. Max Talbot (twice), Tyson Barrie, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog (twice) all helped in the efforts.

The number of direct contributors grows to 10 if you include Semyon Varlamov, and he obviously must be included. He made 41 saves, after all, (it was just his fifth 40-plust saves effort of the season), and he was spectacular in the third period when his team needed him the most.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy has said more than a few times this season how impressed he has been with his team’s chemistry and its mental approach. In the offseason he talked about wanting his team to have that, and in the preseason he talked about his team beginning to develop that.

In the regular season he has often used that as an answer when asked, “What’s different with this team this year?”

His answer has always been the same, or at least a variation on the theme: Team. Teamwork. Team-first mentality. Win as a team. Lose as a team.

The Avalanche, with Roy back as head coach and vice president of hockey operations, is having one of the best seasons in its storied history, and Roy’s focus on “team” is clearly a reason why. This year’s Avs simply embody the term, and that’s never been more evident than it was last night at American Airlines Center.

Colorado jumped ahead early and led 2-0 with four minutes left in the first period before the Stars fought back and tied it with a late first-period goal and an early score in the second.

Paul Stastny put the Avalanche back ahead with about two minutes remaining in the second period, and there seemed to be some finality to the score. Stastny pumped his fist afterward and mouthed, “That’s right!” as he and his teammates celebrated.

The second period was an up-and-down chaotic scene, and Stastny’s goal had the feeling of the final punch.

The Stars didn’t see it that way, though, and they knotted the game again with a score just 16 seconds later.

“I was not happy about that third goal; that was my goal,” Varlamov said. “I made a little bit of a bad move so I was not happy about it. When I went into the second intermission I was trying to re-group myself and get ready for the third period. The third period was huge for us.”

Indeed it was.

Colorado earned the game’s two points with a masterful final frame that was highlighted by Tanguay’s winner at 4:13 and punctuated by 13 saves from its netminder.

"[The Avalanche] just play a pretty good team game,” Dallas captain Jamie Benn summed up afterward. “They have a good goaltender and play pretty tight defense, and it's tough to play against."

Even Tanguay’s goal wasn’t the result of any one individual play. Instead, it came off the work of three players, all working in tandem, all helping Colorado to its 16th road victory in 25 tries this season.

Gabriel Landeskog brought the puck behind Dallas’ net with just less than 16 minutes to play, and he had a tail in Stars defenseman Aaron Rome. Dallas’ Sergei Gonchar had a bead on the Avs captain, too, as all three neared the end wall.

Stastny saw the play developing on the opposite side of the net and made his way toward Landeskog, quickly slicing in and effectively screening out out Rome and Gonchar.

Landeskog was left with a free release up the right-side wall, and he found some ice and time to push a pass to the left face-off circle, where Tanguay was waiting to throw it at the crease and Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Stastny had repositioned himself in front of the goal, and Gonchar was there, too, so as the puck flew in it bounced off Gonchar’s skate and went right past Lehtonen, the reigning NHL First Star of the Week.

The whole sequence lasted no more than 10 seconds, but it was a microcosm of the Avalanche’s season.

Everyone involved did their job in that particular moment, and the end result was a second win in three games and 71 points on the season. For some perspective consider that the Avalanche/Nordiques franchise has earned fewer than 71 points in a traditional season eight times in its history.

“It wasn’t pretty, but those things happen,” Tanguay said of his fourth goal of the season. “I had [Stastny] in the corner of the net. If it doesn’t hit something else, it probably goes in with him. We’ll take those bounces, and [Varlamov] was great. He gave us a chance to win, and that was the difference in the game.”

Yes, Varlamov. He tied his career high Monday with 26 wins, and he’s 10-1-1 in his past 12 starts.

He was so impressive in the final 20 minutes that Roy, who has been remarkably stoic this season as the voice of record for the franchise, almost got ahead of himself when singing Varlamov’s praises.

After Tanguay scored, Dallas unleashed an onslaught and had many chances at tying goals. Varlamov was there each time, though, often spreading, reaching, lunching and grabbing at loose pucks.

“He’s playing outstanding for us,” Roy said. “I just want to be careful. I just want to go one game at a time, and I think that’s the approach Varly has, but we understand what he’s been doing for us.

“Every goalie that plays in this game [is] subject to bad goals. It happens. It’s how you bounce back. He showed a lot of poise to come back in the third and play the way he did.”

The Stars entered Monday’s game with three straight wins, and they had given up just one goal in the streak, outscoring opponents 14-1. The Avalanche jumped on them early and knocked them back a bit, but they rebounded and put up a fight in a tough Central Division game.

They just didn’t have an answer for the Avalanche, which has followed its coach’s guidance to within five points of division-leading Chicago.

“I thought [Dallas] played well tonight,” Roy said. “The difference in the game, without a doubt, was the start of the game, and the performance of our goalie. We had such a good start, and [the Stars] had to play catch-up hockey, and in this league it’s very difficult.

“[Dallas] had a really good second period. They were buzzing. It’s a high-tempo team. They put a lot of pride on high tempo, but at the same time our goalie was outstanding.”

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