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Liles' Power-Play Goal Sparks Avs

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
It’s been a season filled with ups and downs for Colorado’s John-Michael Liles. Fortunately for the Avalanche, the defenseman’s play is peaking at the right time.

Liles experienced a number of valleys this year, as he played in only 59 games and, as a result, tallied career-lows in goals (6-tied) and points (31).

However, there were a few crests as well.  Those 31 points still led all Colorado blueliners, marking the fourth consecutive season he’s paced the Avs defense in points. He also topped the team in power-play assists (17) and was third in power-play points (20).

Among the 23 games he missed throughout the course of the season, 13 were due to injury and the other 10 were the decision of Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco - including four games in a row in early February and another three straight contests in late March.

It was a situation that Liles, known as a solid, puck-moving rearguard, wasn’t accustomed to dealing with. When pressed, Sacco continued to tell the media he needed a more consistent effort from his defenseman, and Liles repeatedly admitted that he expected more out of himself as well.

You have to assume Sacco has been pretty happy with what he’s seen recently.

Liles averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the Avalanche’s final six regular season contests, recording a goal and two assists with an even plus/minus rating. His tally was a big one, coming on a tip-in during overtime on April 4 against San Jose.

Wednesday night, in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against those same Sharks, Liles again came through with a big goal. The Avalanche and Sharks had battled to a 0-0 stalemate through the first 32-plus minutes of the game when Liles netted a power-play tally to put Colorado on the board en route to an eventual 2-1 victory.

Stationed at the right point, Liles blasted a shot that went through a Chris Stewart screen and over Evgeni Nabokov’s left shoulder for the fourth postseason goal of his career.

“It definitely gave us some momentum. I thought we played a very strong second period,” said Liles. “It’s a good feeling. I thought we moved the puck very well and were able to get some shots on (Nabokov). Stewy did a great job in front screening there.”

Paired with Ryan Wilson, Liles finished with 19:30 of ice time, totaling three shots on goal, two hits and three blocked shots.

Take A Deep Breath
Avalanche fans collectively gasped and then breathed a sigh of relief late in the second period, as Matt Duchene went down behind the San Jose net and was slow to get up.

The concern stemmed from the fact that Duchene had missed the last game and a half of the regular season with a torso injury, and his availability for Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals had been in question earlier in the week.

Fortunately, the play had nothing to do with his torso. With Duchene trying to beat Nabokov to a puck behind the goal, the netminder’s stick came up and clipped the rookie in the face. There was no penalty called on the play, but Duchene did return a few shifts later when the Avs were handed a power play after Devin Setoguchi was sent to the box for hooking.
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