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Hamilton's First Goal Helps Avs Stay In Playoff Race

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

GLENDALE, Ariz.—It wasn’t the sexiest of goals, but it was an important one for Freddie Hamilton and the Colorado Avalanche.

Hamilton scored his first NHL tally in the second period and the marker ended up being the game-winner in the Avs’ 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night at Gila River Arena.

“I’ve dreamed about it many different ways and maybe that was one of them,” Hamilton said of his first score. “I know a lot of first goals are tips or rebounds. I was just trying to go to the net and glad it went in.”

The win is the Avalanche’s third in a row and keeps the team in striking distance for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. The Avs have won six of their last seven games and 11 of their last 15.

Colorado trailed 1-0 early in the contest against Arizona, but goals by Ryan O’Reilly and Jarome Iginla in a span of 29 seconds flipped the score in the first period before Hamilton extended the Avs lead to 3-1 in the middle stanza. The Coyotes got within one early in the third, but the visitors pulled away with a late tally by Matt Duchene and an empty-netter by Gabriel Landeskog.

It was another night where the Avs showed they still believe that they can win any contest and make the NHL’s second season.

“A lot of people think we’re out, but we don’t,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been winning our games, and we think we’re going to keep on winning. It just shows the resiliency of this team, and we’re really motivated trying to make the playoffs.”

Since being acquired from San Jose at the March 2 NHL Trade Deadline, Hamilton has been thrust into the Avalanche’s race for a postseason berth.

It’s been a whirlwind 17 days for the Toronto native, who first played two games with the club’s AHL affiliate in Lake Erie before being called up on March 7. He made his Avs debut that night in Columbus and has played in all six games since.

“After getting traded, it was kind of a weird first week,” he said. “Going to two new teams and meeting so many people. I’m finally getting to know the players, the coaches and the staff, so I’ve definitely been getting more comfortable.”

As Colorado’s current fourth line center, one of his jobs on the ice is to get to the net and provide traffic in front of the opposing netminder. That’s exactly what he did at 8:09 of the second frame, and he got rewarded for it.

Standing in front of Arizona goalie Louie Domingue, Hamilton redirected a Brad Stuart slap shot from the point with the blade of his stick before turning around and seeing the puck lying on the other side of the goal line.

“It was my stick [that hit the puck], and I don’t know what happened after that,” Hamilton said. “I just saw it go through his five-hole, and I guess I was too excited.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, so it’s nice to finally get one.”

Thursday’s game in the desert marked Hamilton’s 18th in the NHL, and it seems like things are starting to come together for the 23-year-old.

“I’m very happy for him,” said Colorado head coach Patrick Roy of Hamilton. “He’s been working really hard for us. That was a winning goal. Why not? First goal you score in the NHL, a winning goal. Perfect for him.”

O’REILLY KEEPS ROLLING

After a month of dishing the puck and watching his teammates score, Ryan O’Reilly has started his own run of finding the back of the net.

O’Reilly scored in his second straight game and now has 14 points (two goals and 12 assists) in his last 15 games.

The Colorado center’s 12th goal of the season came after he chased down a bouncing puck in the Arizona zone, creating a breakaway opportunity.

With the puck heading toward the Coyote keeper, O’Reilly was able to get control of it just before it reached the crease and a get a wrist shot off. Domingue made the original save, but the puck slid behind him and he kicked it into the net as O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog were providing pressure in front.

MILESTONE FOR MITCHELL

John Mitchell played in his 400th NHL game on Thursday and hopes there will be many more after it.

“It’s a good number, obviously,” Mitchell said before the contest. “Growing up as a kid, you watch the NHL and you hope that you can play in this league and make it. To hit that milestone, 400, is great. Hopefully, I can make it to a couple hundred more.”

The Oakville, Ontario native also continued his scoring run in the milestone contest as he assisted on Jarome Iginla’s first period tally, which was the Avs’ second in a span of 29 seconds and gave them a 2-1 lead.

Mitchell is now on a season-long three-game point streak with a goal and two assists in that time, all of which have come since he was moved to one of the Avalanche’s top lines with Iginla and center Matt Duchene midway through the March 12 game against the New Jersey Devils.

HISHON UPDATE

Forward Joey Hishon missed his fourth straight game because of an elbow injury, but he could be back in the Avalanche lineup for the team’s contest on Friday in Anaheim.

Hishon has been skating for over a week since hurting his elbow in a game on March 8 against Minnesota and has been a full participant in the team’s last few practices, wearing a normal, grey practice sweater.

Head coach Patrick Roy had said Hishon could have returned for Thursday’s game in Arizona, but Colorado’s 2010 first-round draft pick told him after morning skate that his elbow didn’t feel strong enough on faceoffs. Hishon had been centering the team’s fourth line since he made his NHL regular-season debut on March 4 against Pittsburgh.

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