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Hejduk Strong In Return

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Milan Hejduk made his long-awaited return to the Avalanche lineup tonight after missing Colorado’s last 17 games due to two separate injuries. The veteran winger certainly didn’t disappoint the Pepsi Center faithful in his first game back.

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The 34-year-old had undergone an arthroscopic knee procedure and was sidelined for the final 14 games prior to the Olympic break. Following the Olympics, Hejduk missed three contests with a back ailment.

But if Hejduk had any rust after the layoff, it certainly didn’t show, as he notched his 16th and 17th goals of the season in Colorado’s 7-3 triumph over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday evening.

It didn’t take long for Hejduk to get back into the swing of things, as he first tallied just 8:46 into the contest – a goal that came only 11 seconds after David Perron had given the Blues a 1-0 advantage.

Matt Duchene began the play by gaining the offensive zone and dropping a pass to Peter Mueller at the right point. Mueller then made a cross-ice feed to Hejduk, who tipped a shot toward the St. Louis net that was stopped by Chris Mason. However, the veteran quickly buried the rebound to even the game at 1-1.

Hejduk’s second goal was a little more fluky, but gave the Avalanche a 4-1 advantage nonetheless. After carrying the puck up the right wing and down past the faceoff dot, the forward tried to find a cutting Adam Foote with a centering feed. Instead, the puck deflected off St. Louis forward Andy McDonald’s skate and past Mason at 1:18 of the middle frame.

“We knew they were hot going into tonight’s game, winning five in a row. We definitely wanted to stop them and we did," said Hejduk. "We had a good first half of the game. We had a little let-down early in the third but we came back strong.”

Not to be outshined by Hejduk’s performance in his return, second-year forward Chris Stewart continued his recent hot streak by netting a hat trick. The first goal came from just outside the goal crease on a Paul Stastny feed at 9:58 of the opening frame, while the second was the result of a big blast from just outside the right faceoff circle 54 seconds into the middle stanza.

Stewart later assisted on T.J. Galiardi’s 12th goal of the season, but he wasn’t done just yet.

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The Toronto native was awarded a penalty shot with 56.4 seconds remaining in the second period after being hauled down by Blues defenseman Erik Johnson on a breakaway. On his attempt, Stewart slowly made his way toward the goal and beat St. Louis goalie Ty Conklin to his glove side to complete the hat trick.
It was the first hat trick by an Avalanche player since Hejduk posted a three-goal effort against these same St. Louis Blues on Dec. 9, 2007.

Stewart now leads the team with 24 goals and has totaled 15 points (7g/8a) in his last eight contests, including five multi-point outings.

Home Debuts
Tonight’s game was the first in Denver for Peter Mueller and Stephane Yelle since being acquired in separate deals at the NHL’s trade deadline.

Mueller assisted on both of Hejduk’s goals tonight, giving the third-year forward points in all three games he’s played for the Avalanche (1g/3a).

For Yelle, tonight’s contest was a return home, as the center spent the first seven years of his career in Colorado and helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001. Yelle was honored with a video tribute during the first period.

Yelle picked up a point by assisting on Matt Hendricks’ empty-net tally with 1:18 left in the game.

Salei Injured
With Hejduk’s return, forwards Marek Svatos and Chris Durno were scratched tonight, as were defensemen Brett Clark and Kyle Cumiskey. Following the NHL’s trade deadline, the league’s 23-man roster limitation is lifted, meaning a team can carry an unlimited number of players on its roster as long as it stays under the salary cap.

The Avalanche’s defensive depth might now come into play, as blueliner Ruslan Salei was forced to leave the game with a torso injury. Salei saw 4:01 of ice time in the opening frame, but did not come out for the second period.

Charity Brunch on Sunday
The Avs won’t practice tomorrow, but will instead take part in the 2010 Colorado Avalanche Charity Brunch, hosted by the Avs Better Halves. This event will benefit The Children's Hospital, Teammates for Kids and Kroenke Sports Charities.

The Colorado Avalanche Charity Brunch will include a silent auction, brunch and a fashion show (presented by Saks Fifth Avenue and Styliscious) with Avalanche players and coaches escorting ambassadors from The Children's Hospital.

Check back to in the coming days for photos and a video piece from the event.

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