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Calgary Connection Continues Finding Success

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

When you think of dynamic duos, the usual characters come to mind: Batman and Robin, Turner and Hooch, Wayne and Garth, Tom and Jerry, Ace and Gary, even Lilo and Stitch.

You should probably add Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay to that list because they are like telekinetic twins out on the ice, superheroes performing amazing feats of skill and pointscoring for the Colorado Avalanche.

Both are playing great hockey for the Avs, leading the team in a two-way tie for points (27) and goals (12) at the halfway point of the season, and they were at it again during Colorado’s 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night in Denver.

The “Calgary Connection” factored heavily in Colorado’s victory, with Iginla potting the first and fourth tallies and Tanguay assisting on each of them.

The first came in the opening period during another strong start for the Avalanche. It was a nice give-and-go play that saw Iginla feed Tanguay in the corner, cycle around back to the top of the faceoff circle, catch the return pass and subsequently blast a shot through traffic. With the help of a drive-by screen from Ryan O’Reilly, Iginla’s hummingbird-like shot found twine behind Senators goalie Craig Anderson.

“It’s just a play in the corner. Igg and I, we always like to skate to each other. We know that, once the passes make it on the cycle, that the ‘D’ usually turns around,” Tanguay said of the play. “He’s got such a quick release, I just turned around while the ‘D’ was looking the other way. You guys all saw how quick he shot that, and it went in the back of the net. That was nice.”

The play was exactly what the Avs were looking for after opening the last two games with three goals in the first 77 seconds combined. For the second time in three contests, Iginla had put his team out to an early lead.

So what makes the Iginla-Tanguay pairing so successful?

“We’ve been playing together for a long time. We played together in Calgary for—I was there for five [years]; we probably played consistently on a line for four of them. We know where each other’s at on the ice,” explained Tanguay. “He likes to shoot the puck. I tend to like to pass the puck a little bit more. But for us, the key to success is really our work. We know that we have enough skill, especially with Ryan [O’Reilly] at center, that if we’re aggressive on the forecheck, if we get ourselves the puck, we’re going to be successful.”

The two came together again on a power-play goal just 23 seconds into the final stanza, stunning but not incapacitating the Senators. This time Tanguay fed a cross slot pass from the half boards to Iginla, who was blazing into a prime scoring area. Iginla ripped his shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle, burying the puck far side behind Robin Lehner, who had come in to replace Anderson in the second period.

“I love playing with him. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to get to play with him. He’s as good a passer as anybody, and playing with him you know if you don’t get the puck, it wasn’t the right play because he’s always looking,” Iginla said of his wingman. “You just try to get him the puck somewhere and get open, and you know he’ll find you if you’re open.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate and blessed to get to play with him, and it’s been fun.”

Iginla has been producing as expected, and is on pace for 24 goals this season despite a slow start by the entire team. Being able to contribute to the club’s resurgence is something that brings his well-known smile to his face.

“It feels good. It always feels good to win and to score. We’ve been battling for a while [and] in our last 10 or 11, it feels like we’re starting to build some momentum here. Guys are all starting to feel better,” he said. “That’s the end of the first half and we gave ourselves a chance now to keep climbing and to climb back into the playoff race, and we think we can do that. It is about momentum and streaks and stuff.

“We’ve been through some—it feels like as a group—some tougher times this year, and now we want to build that roll the other way, and have it be a long, good roll.”

For Tanguay, the on-ice production has resulted in a personal milestone. With his second assist of the game, Tanguay tallied his 800th career point.

“If it wasn’t for injuries, I might have gotten there a little bit sooner. Last year was very difficult. This year, I felt good coming in. I still think I can be a little bit more productive than I’ve been this year,” Tanguay said. “Tonight, we played good. As a team, we played good. It’s nice to get the point. I wasn’t even thinking about this until they showed it up on the screen. I knew it was close, but this has been a fun ride and there’s still more to go.”

Despite the achievement, Tanguay has his mind set on other, more pressing tasks.

“I still want to improve, be more consistent, and I still think I’ve got more to bring to this team,” he said. “Certainly, we’ve got half of the season left, and I knew at the start of the season it would be difficult for me after missing all of last year. But it’s been fun, and now we’ve got to get ourselves in the playoff picture. That’s where my focus is at.”

The playoffs have been the endgame for the Avalanche since the first round-exit at the hands of the Minnesota Wild last April. The quest for an extended postseason informed offseason acquisitions for Colorado and is in the back of everyone’s minds as the second half of the season begins.

“Any points we can get are crucial right now, and we know the game on Saturday’s a really big one against Dallas. That’s a four-point swing right there, and if we can win that game—which I know we think we obviously have a good chance every night to win—it’ll be a huge game,” said defenseman Erik Johnson. “We’re taking it game by game. We don’t want to look ahead.

“We do know how far back we are in the standings. We do know we will need to jump over and who we’ll need to jump over to get there, but we’re just going to start on Saturday with Dallas and slowly but surely chip our way away.”

Johnson found a milestone of his own in the 5-2 win as well after hammering a rocket through traffic to beat Anderson for the third Avalanche goal of the game. The tally was his 11th of the season, setting a new career high.

“I’m playing the best hockey of my career right now. To do it here in Colorado, with the staff that we have and with these guys, it feels really good. I just want to continue to help anyway I can,” Johnson said. “If I hit 20 [goals], if I hit 15, as long as I’m helping the team then I don’t care what happens. If the puck keeps going in the net, great. If it doesn’t and we keep winning, that’s all that matters.”

Johnson, Iginla, Tanguay and the rest are getting hot at the right time, as Colorado looks to make that push up the Western Conference standings.

“We knew where we wanted to be coming into the season; that’s playing in the playoffs. And we’ve just got to continue doing what we’ve been doing,” said Johnson. “We’re playing really well right now, and it’s just got to stay that way.”

The Avalanche also got goals from Brad Stuart—his first in an Avalanche sweater—and Daniel Briere—his eighth—in Thursday’s win.

“I thought our guys shot the puck well tonight, but look at the goals. The first one is a screen. E.J.’s goal is a screen,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “Okay, the power-play goal was a nice shot by Jarome and the same thing for Danny Briere on that angle shot, but this is how we score goals now.

“Obviously, I like the fact that we’re winning hockey games. To me, that’s very positive,” said Roy, who also mentioned that the team still has some areas for improvement. “I’m not going to complain here. We’re winning hockey games, and I think that’s what we want.”

“I think we’re starting to build that confidence that the group had last year. We’re starting to make better plays. We’re starting to have the puck more, more puck possession,” said Ignla. “It’s starting to really come for us, and we want to keep it going.”

Colorado returns to action for a Saturday matinee against the Dallas Stars. The puck drops at 1 p.m. MT at Pepsi Center.

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