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Great Start Helps Avs Defeat Canucks

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche nearly had the perfect start.

Colorado outshot the Vancouver Canucks, moved the puck well and dominated possession in the first period on Thursday night at Rogers Centre. The only things that were missing were the goals.

Those finally came in the second, as the Avs picked up where they left off after the first 20 minutes and started putting the biscuit in the basket. Colorado scored three times in the middle frame and went on to defeat Vancouver 4-1.

"We came out. We set the tone in the first period," said forward John Mitchell, who sealed the game with an empty-net tally with one minute left to play. "We got 18 shots. Obviously we would have liked to get one, but we built some momentum there so that was good. We had a big second period by the guys."

Jarome Iginla opened the scoring with a deflection on a shot by Gabriel Landeskog 3:23 into the second stanza before Alex Tanguay and Landeskog added goals of their own to make it a 3-0 game in favor of the Avs by the 12:56 mark.

Landeskog's goal was the prettiest of the bunch, coming from tic-tac-toe passing while one of the NHL's hottest lines was on the power play. Quick passes from Ryan O'Reilly (below the goal line) and Tanguay (at the left circle) led to Landeskog being open at the right side and allowed the Colorado captain to rip a shot swiftly in and out of the net.

"The goal we scored on the power play was a beauty," said head coach Patrick Roy.

"The line of O'Reilly, they are playing solid hockey right now. They are dominant shift after shift after shift. That is fun to watch. The power play is clicking well. Good recipe for winning."

Tanguay had scored 2:39 seconds before Landeskog's tally, grabbing a loose puck on a ricochet off the end wall and throwing it short side, top shelf into the goal.

The Avs hadn't scored the first goal in their previous four games and appeared eager to open the scoring against the Canucks in the second contest of a back-to-back, especially after how the first half of two-game set began.

In Wednesday at Edmonton, the Avs fell down 3-0 in the first 10 minutes before being able to rebound and score three straight to tie the contest, only to lose late.

"Coming out of last night, we wanted to make sure that we had a good start and obviously we did that," defenseman Nick Holden said. "We got a good forecheck going. We were moving our feet well and getting pucks to the net."

Colorado outshot Edmonton 44-34 on Wednesday, and after the game the Avs said that they thought they were the better team and deserved more than the 4-3 loss.

The Avs got what they deserved on Thursday as their victory in British Columbia ended a three-game losing streak. The Avalanche had also lost by 3-2 scores at Anaheim last Friday in overtime and at Calgary on Monday.

Roy thought his team could have picked up the two points in all three of the defeats.

"The three games on that road trip, I felt that we should have won every single one of them. We played well enough for that, but we just didn't get any of the bounces that we needed to take the lead in Calgary and Edmonton as well," Roy said. "I thought tonight, we were skating well. It was probably one of our best first 40 minutes of the season. We were playing as well defensively as we were offensively. We were executing really well. We were moving the puck well. They were fun to watch."

Colorado outshot Vancouver 7-1 in the first six minutes of the game and went on to hold an 18-5 shots-on-goal advantage after the first period horn sounded. Overall, the Avs had 25 total shot attempts compared to the Canucks' seven in the opening frame.

Vancouver made a third-period push, firing 18 shots on netminder Reto Berra but was only able to score once. The Avalanche still finished with a 38-24 shots-on-goal edge.

The only stat that mattered for Avalanche however was the win, and Roy was happy that his players were finally rewarded for their efforts.

"They are very resilient. This is a group… there is nothing to say to them right now quite honestly because they work hard," Roy said. "Even those two losses (to Calgary and Edmonton), I thought we played hard. I thought we played with intensity. We just wanted to find ways to win hockey games. I thought that is what we did."

BERRA GETS THE START

Goaltender Reto Berra got the nod in the crease on Thursday night for the Avalanche. It was his ninth start of the season and his first since Nov. 25 against the Arizona Coyotes.

Berra made 33 saves, including 17 in the third period when a desperate Canucks club was throwing everything at him from all angles. It was the Swiss goalie's first victory since Nov. 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"When you work hard, good things happen to you," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said of Berra. "I'm very happy for him to see this performance tonight. Not only is it going to bring confidence to himself, but his teammates are going to look at him and say, 'You know what, Reto has been working hard.' I'm sure they are proud of him as well."

Roy had previously said that Semyon Varlamov was going to play both games of the back-to-back, but he changed his mind after Berra entered Wednesday's game against the Oilers in relief and played well. He made 26 saves in 49:08 of work.

"I think there was not much pressure for me at all," Berra said of his mindset for the contest in Vancouver. "I haven't had the season so far that I wish I've had. So it wasn't much to lose today. I just wanted to prove to people and especially my teammates that I could play in this league."

Berra had seen action in five games since his last start, including playing 43:13 in his previous appearance on March 10 versus Los Angeles.

LANDESKOG FINALLY POTS ONE

It seemed it would be just a matter of time before Gabriel Landeskog was going to find the back of the net.

After leading all players with three shots and seemingly being robbed twice in the opening stanza, Landeskog netted his 22nd goal and team-leading 54th point on the power play midway through the second. In the first period, his whack at the puck right at the top of the crease was deflected out of play by a Vancouver player's stick. On another attempt moments later, he knocked the puck into the cage, only to have the goal waved off as the on-ice official intended to blow his whistle.

He was also denied three minutes before scoring his tally as he stole the puck and went in alone on Eddie Lack, but his backhand shot was knocked to the side by the Canucks goalie's glove. However, the play wasn't totally wasted as the Avs regained control of the puck and Tanguay scored a few seconds later.

When Landeskog finally scored, it ended up being the culmination of hard work on the man advantage that had been building for a while.

"Tonight, on that PP that we scored, we could have easily scored two or three times before," Tanguay said. "We're very excited with the way we have been moving the puck, and we're hoping it will keep going over the next few games."

Landeskog now has 23 points (12 goals and 11 assists) in his last 21 games.

CANUCK KILLERS CONTINUE

The top two active players with the most points against the Vancouver Canucks were back to their old tricks.

Jarome Iginla scored his team-leading 26th goal Thursday and Alex Tanguay finished with a goal and an assist against the B.C.-based club. Iginla has the most points versus Vancouver with 80 (32 goals and 48 assists) in 94 games, while Tanguay is second with 62 (22 goals and 40 assists) in 68 games.

Iginla's goal moved him into a tie with Jean Beliveau (1,219) for 40th place on the NHL’s all-time points list.

O'REILLY KEEPS ROLLING

Ryan O'Reilly added two assists on Thursday against the Canucks and now has 22 points (four goals and 18 assists) in his last 19 games. He tied a career high with three points (goal and two assists) on Wednesday at Edmonton.

O'Reilly had assists on Tanguay's and Landeskog's goals in the second period that gave Colorado a 3-0 lead.

He also extended his season-long point streak to six games, one shy of his career-high of seven that he set Oct. 12-24, 2009 as a rookie. O'Reilly has 14 goals and 37 assists while playing in all 74 games this season. With 51 points, he is the fourth Avs player to eclipse the 50-point mark this year.

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