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Avalanche's Top Line In Top Form

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
You can’t jump out to a much better start than the one the Avalanche had Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Much of the early damage – which resulted in Colorado taking a 4-0 lead just 8:02 into the contest – was done by Colorado’s top line.

That line, consisting of 23-year-olds Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski and 22-year-old Chris Stewart, combined for three goals and three assists in the opening frame as the Avalanche skated to a 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets.

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Stewart scored just 21 seconds into the contest when he streaked up the right wing, took a pass from Wolski and tucked a backhander between Columbus netminder Steve Mason’s legs. Wolski then netted two goals of his own, first depositing the rebound of a John-Michael Liles shot at 3:22 and then scoring a power-play goal at 4:15.

With the Avalanche scoring on three of its first seven shots, Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock - who had already burned his timeout after Colorado’s second goal - elected to pull Mason in favor of backup Mathieu Garon.

It hardly seemed to matter, as the Avs found themselves up 4-0 shortly thereafter following a Liles 5-on-3 power-play goal at 8:02. The goal was originally credited to Stastny, but was given to Liles upon further review (with Stastny drawing the primary assist).

Line combinations typically come and go during the course of the season. If three players are playing well as a unit, the head coach will normally ride the wave and keep the trio together until they cool off. But Stastny, Stewart and Wolski aren’t giving Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco a single reason to break them up.

Both Stastny (4g/12a) and Stewart (7g/9a) have recorded 16 points over the past 14 games, while Wolski has totaled 20 points (6g/14a) in his last 17 contests after putting up a three-point effort in tonight’s victory.

“It was big for us and the fans," said Wolski. "We wanted to make sure that we responded well. We came out and did the right things in the first period. We got the pucks in deep and we were able to get some power plays and were able to capitalize.”

Hejduk Returns
Milan Hejduk made his return to the Avalanche lineup tonight after missing the previous two games with a knee injury suffered on Dec. 11 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hejduk picked up a pair of assists tonight, both of which came with the Avalanche on the power play in the opening frame, and also scored the goal that iced the game with 3:28 remaining.
Yip Makes Debut
After being recalled from the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League on Friday, rookie forward Brandon Yip made his NHL debut tonight.

Yip began the game playing right wing on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and Darcy Tucker, but also took a handful of shifts alongside Chris Durno and Matt Hendricks. Overall, Yip saw 6:39 of ice time, fired two shots on goal and was whistled for hooking in the second period.

The Boston University product became the sixth different player to make his NHL debut for the Avalanche this season (joining Matt Duchene, Justin Mercier, Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Stoa and Ryan Wilson), the most of any team in the NHL.
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