DENVER (AP) - Milan Hejduk
scored a pair of power-play goals 34 seconds apart to lift Colorado to its eighth straight win, a 5-3 victory over Toronto on Tuesday night that pushed the Avalanche into a tie for the Northwest Division lead.
Rookie Marek Svatos scored his 27th goal of the season, best in the Western Conference, to help Colorado equal its third-longest winning streak in franchise history.
The Maple Leafs lost their third straight.
After struggling with their rebuilt lineup, then with an assortment of goaltending problems, the Avalanche have found their stride, right in time for the second half of the season.
Though they still only have the sixth-most points in the West, they moved into a tie with Calgary and Vancouver in the Northwest, a good sign for a team that won nine straight divisions and was one of the best teams in hockey during the decade leading up to this season's new collective bargaining agreement.
If the Avs are going to continue to dominate, it will be with players like Hejduk leading the way.
He was decisive and crisp in scoring his 12th and 13th goals of the season, both from point-blank range. The first came off a pass from Alex Tanguay on a 5-on-3 power play to tie the game at 2 with 11:52 left in the second. Moments later, Brett McLean found Hejduk unhindered in front of the net on the 5-on-4 for the go-ahead score.
That score made Hejduk the first player to reach 100 goals at the Pepsi Center, the home of the Avalanche since it opened prior to the 1999-00 season. Hejduk had a shot at an open net for the hat trick, but a Toronto defender deflected it with 10 seconds left.
Goalie David Aebischer, maligned earlier in the season, has been in net for the last seven Avalanche wins.
He gave up a bad goal to Jeff O'Neill after overcommitting on a shot by Mats Sundin that hit the back boards and ricocheted out to the other side of the net. That gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead early in the second, but Aebischer was solid from there, finishing with 24 saves and allowing only one more goal, to Sundin with 5:16 left.
Ed Balfour made 26 saves in the losing effort. He was helpless on Colorado's first goal, a Rob Blake slap shot that was redirected by Tanguay on the power play to tie the game at 1.
A few minutes after Hejduk's flurry, Cody McCormick also beat Balfour for his first goal of the season and a 4-2 lead.
Due to NHL scheduling quirks, this was Toronto's first visit to Denver since Dec. 15, 1997.
Colorado won its eighth consecutive game tonight, equaling the third longest winning streak in franchise history ... The record is 12 in a row in 1998-99 ... David Aebischer earned his seventh consecutive victory, matching his career-long winning streak set earlier this season from Oct. 21-Nov. 10 ... Milan Hejduk became the first player to ever score 100 goals at Pepsi Center, as he notched his 99th and 100th goals in this building ... Hejduk has exactly 100 goals in 215 games at Pepsi Center ... Marek Svatos scored his 27th goal of the season tonight, equaling the third highest total by a rookie in franchise history ... Marek moved into a tie with Andrei Kovalenko, who also scored 27 in 1992-93...Only the Stastny brothers, Peter and Anton, scored more times as a rookie ... The Avalanche matched a season high with three power-play goals ... It's the fourth time that Colorado has scored three PPG in a game this year but first since Oct. 27 vs. Vancouver ... Cody McCormick scored his third career goal tonight but first since Nov. 20, 2003 vs. NY Rangers ... Alex Tanguay recorded his 249th career assist tonight, passing Valeri Kamensky (248) for seventh place on the franchise assist list ... The Avalanche played their 10th and final game against the Eastern Conference this season, finishing 6-4...The Avs started 2-4 in their first six against the East but rebounded to win each of their last four, which included wins over the Rangers, Canadiens, Flyers and Maple Leafs
Marek Svatos: "I think everybody is playing well. Abby was outstanding again today. We're playing good defensively. And we buried our scoring chances. So I think that's a big key for our winning streak. We moved the puck well in their zone and our penalty killers are outstanding. I think they are one of the best in the league. They got the first goal but we stayed on the top of our game and battled back. We got a couple of goals and we didn't give them many chances after that."
David Aebischer: "5-on-5, 4-on-4, we're playing much better. It shows in our standings. We got some points tonight again. Right now we're playing with confidence and I think that's the key. Not much bothers us. We did what we had to do to get those two points."
Milan Hejduk: On Scoring His 100th Goal At Pepsi Center... "It's a great honor. I just heard about it a couple of weeks ago, that I was two goals shy. So, it's a great feeling." General... "We have good offensive power. Any line can score a goal. That's something we are doing better this season. That any line can score goals."
Alex Tanguay: "We're pretty confident. We know what we have to do. It's not like we played bad in the first period. We knew that they were very skilled off the rush. So, it's just a matter of us skating and doing the things that we've been doing to be successful."
Head Coach Pat Quinn: "They scored two quick ones. One on the 5-on-3, which was kind of a bad angle but a good shot up high. The next one we missed our coverage. We gave the guy behind the net too much time. Our front defenseman should have challenged him. Two bad things that end up in a goal and suddenly now, we go from a 2-1 lead to a one-goal deficit."
Tie Domi: "The positive thing is we get to bounce back tomorrow night. But at this point, the penalties cost us. When you give a team (this many power-play chances), especially with the fire-power they have, it's tough to defend against them. They kind of turned the tide a little bit and got the momentum. We just really couldn't find our legs."