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How Swede It Is

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

Playoff hockey is about minimizing mistakes and making the most of chances when the opportunity presents itself. For the Colorado Avalanche, every game from here on out needs to be that kind of high-octane, as-close-to-perfect game as possible if the club wants to push for the postseason.

Execution needs to come from all areas of the ice, and that’s largely what the Avs have been accomplishing lately. A good-but-not-good-enough effort on Wednesday—where Colorado outplayed the Los Angeles Kings yet fell 4-1—translated into success against Chicago, as the Avalanche skated away with a 4-1 whopper of a win from the Windy City on Friday night.

Part of Colorado’s recent stretch of outstanding hockey has been due to leadership, particularly from captain Gabriel Landeskog. You can only use words to get so far, and when times are tough, actions speak louder than anything.

Landeskog has taken it upon himself to lead by example, and that has led him to a career-high stretch of five goals scored in as many games, including the game-winner at United Center. He is first Avs player to score in five straight contests since Milan Hejduk did it from March 4-14, 2007.

“We’ve been getting better every game, and we feel like we’ve been creating scoring chances and creating opportunities to score,” Landeskog said, crediting linemates, Ryan O'Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon, for the success. “Even the nights where the puck hasn’t gone in for us, we feel like we’ve been close. You always tell yourself, as long as you’re getting scoring chances and opportunities, eventually it’s going to go in, and lately it’s been going in for us.”

Playing Chicago—a perennial top dog in the Central Division—in Chicago isn’t an easy feat, but it offered the perfect challenge for the Avs to measure themselves in the face of late-season adversity. They needed to win, and they knew it would take some grit.

“For us, it’s about going out there every night and trying to inch our way closer and really scratch and claw our way into this playoff spot,” said Landeskog. “Road games are a great way to build character and build team morale, especially in a building like this. [It was] very important tonight.”

As phenomenal as Landeskog has been, he often can’t win a game on his own. Contributions from Avalanche defensemen Tyson Barrie (two goals) and Brad Stuart helped in that regard, providing a one-two, third-period punch that was too much for Chicago to overcome.

With a full two minutes of 5-on-3 time, the Avs struck twice on the man advantage. The first was a backdoor, tap-in tally from Landeskog, who redirected an O’Reilly pass from atop the crease at 11:05 in the frame. The second came just 24 seconds later on the 5-on-4 when Barrie blasted a shot from the point into the twine behind goaltender Corey Crawford.

“To win road games especially, and to win games in this league, you have to be good on the power play,” said Landeskog, who also assisted on Barrie’s power-play tally. “That’s something we’ve been lacking big time lately. So to get two back-to-back like that was big for us, and big for this game.”

Barrie’s second goal of the night looked to be the finishing blow for the Avs, and while it seemed like he placed the shot perfectly, the 23-year-old rear guard admitted that there was a little more chance behind it than most thought.

“I was just trying to kill that one. So I can’t take credit for aiming that,” said Barrie, who credited Jarome Iginla for the setup. “It was a good play by Iggs to slide it over, and I just tried to get it on net.”

Regardless, head coach Patrick Roy was pleased with the result.

“It was a nice shot by Tyson. He picked the right corner, and that was a perfect shot,” said Roy. “Our power play scored two big goals for us.”

“It was nice to see our power play come up big there,” added Barrie. “It’s been awhile since it’s scored big goals for us. That was nice.”

Barrie’s first tally came at 12:52 of the first period on a turnover by Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook. After chaos in the Blackhawks zone, Seabrook sent a puck up and out toward center ice. The biscuit didn’t make it though, as Barrie stepped up and intercepted the pass before skating in on Crawford and firing a shot top-cheese into the net.

“I was kind of coming up, following the play late, and I saw Seabrook kind of look across the ice. I thought he might throw it there and he did,” recounted Barrie. “I was just able to step into the area and grab it, made the shot I wanted to and I was just fortunate to beat him.

“I thought we had a really good start, that our first was really good. It’s always a fun game playing these guys, they played hard, and I thought we did a great job of building off the last few games. If we play like that, we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Barrie was strong on both sides of the puck, capping off a three-point night with an outstanding defensive game. He helped steal at least one potential goal from Chicago in the first period when he tied up Patrick Kane enough to allow Varlamov to make a scissor-save as the goalie slid from one side of the net to the other.

“That was a great defensive play,” Roy said after the game. “I thought Tyson played it perfectly.

“He’s just playing solid hockey. Tonight was a really solid performance by him. He was very sharp. I thought he was as good offensively as defensively. Yeah, we want to see him going in on the rush, but also we want to make sure that he’s playing good in his own end, and I thought tonight that’s what he did.”

Entering the game, Barrie knew he would have to key in on Kane, one of the NHL’s most prolific producers.

“When he’s out there, you’ve got to be aware of him all the time. He’s always dangerous, so you’ve got to have good positioning ‘cause if you don’t, he’ll make you look silly,” said Barrie. “I was fortunate to be able to get under his stick there and be able to stop him from playing the puck.”

Barrie now has five goals in seven games in February, helping make the Avalanche lethal from both the front and the back.

With goals flowing, shots pouring in and determination winning out, Colorado finally feels like it is playing the game it wants.

“I think this is probably the best the room has felt all year. The guys are feeling good about our game, and I think we’re playing a lot better. We’re getting a lot of zone time, getting a lot of shots. We look like a really good hockey team, and that’s exciting for us in the room,” said Barrie. “It’s crunch time, and we’ve got to win. We’ve got goals set in there, and we’ve got to win a lot of games here. We’re feeling pretty confident.”

“I will say this. I’m very proud of our team. It could have been very easy for us to be discouraged coming in here, with the results that we had against L.A.,” said Roy. “We played really hard, we played a solid game. I’m happy that tonight we got rewarded with our effort. I really feel that we played a strong game.”


PDO-YEAH

Stuart

Brad Stuart is a prime example of someone who was rewarded for a routine play. The veteran defenseman, ready for a third-period line change, dumped the puck in on Corey Crawford and turned toward his own bench. It’s a play that happens numerous times over the course of a single game, and often there is little to note. Some players put it on net, others into a corner.

Yet the carefree play, a little flipping, bouncing toss, ended up icing the 4-1 win for the Avalanche. Coming out to casually play the puck with his stick, Crawford suddenly found himself watching as the little black disk skipped off his blade and drifted into the goal.

“Obviously, everybody saw the fourth [goal],” Roy said of the play. “Hey, good things happen when you put pucks on the net. You never know what could happen.”

The unassisted tally was the 35-year-old rear guard’s second of the season, and was Colorado’s third goal in a span of 3:08 in the final frame.


VARLY LOVES CHICAGO

Varlamov

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov has played two games this season at United Center in Chicago, and he’s allowed exactly one goal through 120 minutes of play.

The 26-year-old Russian puck stopper has turned aside 81 shots in that span, excelling in front of such a rowdy, active Illinois audience and quieting a potent Blackhawks offense.

Varlamov improved to 6-1 in the house the Hawks built, posting a 1.61 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage through seven starts (448 minutes played). He’s allowed just 12 tallies on 278 total attempts, and owns two shutouts.

On Jan. 6, Varlamov stopped 54 saves to lead the Avalanche to a 2-0 victory while also setting an NHL record for the most stops in a road shutout. A career high for Varlamov, his 54 saves were also the most in Avalanche history and the second-most in franchise history behind Ron Tugnutt's 70-save performance with the Quebec Nordiques on March 21, 1991 at Boston.

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