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Avs Special Teams Keeps Rolling In Minnesota

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Something eventually had to break on special teams between the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild.

Entering the fifth and final meeting of the regular season on Sunday in St. Paul, Minn., neither Central Division club had been able to score on the power play. The Avs had gone 0-for-16 on the man advantage against the NHL's second-best penalty-kill unit, while the Wild had been unsuccessful in its 15 man-up chances.

It took until early in the third period and during Colorado's third power play of the game, but the visitors at Xcel Energy Center were finally able to find the back of the cage with the extra skater—and it ended up being a big one.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog knocked in a loose puck in the crease at 1:16 of the final stanza and the Avalanche held off a Wild comeback for a 3-2 win. The tally came on the Avs' 18th power-play chance against the Wild this year, and was the eventual game-winner as Minnesota scored twice in the final six minutes to cut its deficit on the scoreboard to one.

The power-play goal was the culmination of hard work that had been building for Colorado after two opportunities earlier in the game led to good puck movement and quality shots, but no red lighters.

"I think even in the second, we had some power-play looks where we had some time and were able to make some plays," Landeskog said. "In the third, it was able to squeeze through, and I was able to pick up the loose puck."

The Avalanche has now scored four power-play goals in its last three games (4-for-12). It is the first time it has tallied with the man advantage in three straight contests since Dec. 20-23.

Landeskog and Jarome Iginla, who had two assists against the Wild, have each scored twice on the power play during the team's recent three-game stretch. Landeskog and Iginla are tied for the team lead in scoring with 46 points.

"We've been working on it for a while now, and I think guys are starting to relax a bit," Iginla said before the game. "We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves. You go out there, and you want to do something, make a difference, and I think we all just a little bit tight for a while. It's starting to come, we are moving around better; we're doing things we want to do."

Landeskog's tally was his 19th of the season and extended his goal streak to three games. The left wing also added an assist in the game and now has 15 points (nine goals and six assists) in his last 12 contests, which also included a career-high five-game point streak from Feb. 12-20.

Colorado's strong power play in recent games has been matched by its stellar play on the penalty kill.

The Avs killed off both power-play opportunities of the Wild, including a big one in the final nine minutes. Minnesota ended up pulling goalie Devan Dubnyk halfway through its last man-up chance to give it a 6-on-4 opportunity for nearly a minute.

Goalie Semyon Varlamov made five saves during the sequence, and the Avs defense did a good job of letting him see clean shots while also clearing away any rebounds.

"He's one of the elite goalies in the league," Colorado defenseman Nick Holden said of his netminder. "When he is on his game, you know you can give him that strong-side shot, so you can worry about the rebounds and backdoor guys so they can't have any easy tap-ins. He is going to make that big stop right in front of them."

The Avalanche has now killed off 19 straight and 26 of its last 27 penalties (96.3 percent). The Wild finished the regular season 0-for-17 on the power play against the Avs.

Colorado's last goal against while on the penalty kill came eight games ago on Feb. 18 against the Los Angeles Kings. The Avs host the same Kings on Tuesday at Pepsi Center.

VARLAMOV SOLID, BUT UNABLE TO FINISH GAME

Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves for his 22nd win of the season, and his second in consecutive nights, but was unable to finish the contest with an apparent injury.

Varlamov was replaced by Reto Berra with 5:44 left in the third period and was not on the bench for remainder of the contest.

Head coach Patrick Roy did not give any specific reason why Varlamov had to leave in the third.

"I haven't talked to [head athletic trainer Matt Sokolowski] yet, but obviously it was a lower-body injury. We'll know more," Roy said in his postgame media scrum.

"I would like to give you more, but I don't have more right now."

Colorado's goalie did face a high shot from Minnesota's Matt Dumba at 2:48 of the second period that hit him in his upper-chest region, forcing him to kneel face first on the ice in pain while Sokolowski raced out to check on him. He eventually stayed in the contest.

Overall, Varlamov played another solid game, which marked his 22nd consecutive start. He was at his best early and late, making 11 saves in both the first and third periods when the Wild was pressuring the most.

He had a 124-minute and 29-second shutout streak going until Chris Stewart scored on a shot that went off Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie's skate and across the goal line with 5:54 left to play.

REDMOND KEEPS IT SIMPLE

Simple gameplay by defenseman Zach Redmond directly led to the Avalanche's first two goals against the Wild.

Getting pucks deep, firing shots on net, not necessarily doing the pretty play, have been things that head coach Patrick Roy has preached to his players throughout the season. Those types of plays are what Redmond did to help give Colorado a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.

The first goal of the night came from a good forecheck by the Avs late in the first period, beginning with Redmond keeping the puck in the Wild zone at the blue line. The defenseman then threw the biscuit around the wall to the left circle, where Jarome Iginla picked it up and fired a shot that Cody McLeod was able to tip into the cage on the short side.

The second tally was a blast by Redmond after Landeskog's shot was blocked at the right circle. Redmond grabbed the loose puck at the right point, skated back to the high slot and fired a big slap shot that seemed to bounce while flying past Dubnyk and going off the post before settling into the net.

"I was kind of staying on my toes at the blue. That is every defenseman's dream, everyone gets sucked down low and the puck somehow pops out, nice and slow," Redmond said of his fifth goal of the year. "Got kind of a lucky bounce there too, hit it while it was rolling and I think it fooled him."

It was Redmond's 14th and 15th points of the season and his first multi-point effort since Feb. 16 versus Arizona.

HISHON, HAMILTON IN THE LINEUP

Joey Hishon returned to the Avalanche lineup Sunday after missing one game with a neck injury.

After making his NHL regular-season debut on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado's 2010 first-round draft pick injured his neck in practice on Friday and was held out of the Avs' game on Saturday in Columbus. He was listed as day to day.

Hishon began Sunday's game on the Avs' fourth line with Marc-Andre Cliche and Freddie Hamilton.

Hamilton later spent the majority of the game on a line with center Ryan O'Reilly and left wing Gabriel Landeskog, switching spots with Cody McLeod.

Hamilton joined the Avalanche on Saturday in Columbus for his debut with his new club after being recalled from Lake Erie earlier in the day. He was acquired from San Jose during the March 2 Trade Deadline.

"Still really excited. It's been quite the week," Hamilton said. "A lot of travel for me, two new teams (Lake Erie and Colorado). I don't think it has really hit me yet. I'm still really excited, and having fun here."

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