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Swede Shorties In Dallas

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

In the game of hockey, sometimes the best defense comes from offense.

That's what the Colorado Avalanche got on Saturday night in the heart of Texas, as it scored two short-handed goals and defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1 at American Airlines Center.

Down a man four times in the first half of the game and being outshot handily, the Avs' resident Swedes sparked the club while it was undermanned on the ice.

Carl Soderberg tallied late in the first period on a beautiful individual effort and Gabriel Landeskog recorded the eventual game-winner on a breakaway in the second period to give Colorado its second win in as many nights and its fourth in a row. It was the first time that the Avs have scored two short-handed goals in a contest since Dec. 10, 2010 at Atlanta (Greg Mauldin and Paul Stastny).

The Stars had 10 minutes worth of power plays, including eight in the first 11:24 of the second period, but the league's No. 3 overall man-up unit could only take advantage once.

"Penalty killing was the key for us tonight," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. "We scored two short-handed goals. If you look at it, it was a momentum changer in my opinion. They were what, fourth in the league in the power play at home. It's one of the better power plays in the league. It could have given them the momentum and the win easily because they are capable of scoring a lot of goals on the power play. But killing them and playing the way we played, it's a good win for us."

Landeskog's tally might have been the backbreaker for Dallas as it came 2:48 into a double-minor high-sticking penalty that Soderberg was serving.

The Avs' captain stole the puck along the wall and was off the other way with only Stars goaltender Antti Niemi to beat. Landeskog placed the puck past Niemi's blocker to break a 1-1 tie.

Jason Demers had evened the game less than three minutes earlier for Dallas while Erik Johnson was in the penalty box for hooking.

"I see it coming out to [John] Klingberg there, and I see it bouncing and hopping and I just try—I know myself how uncomfortable that is when the puck is coming toward you and you can't really settle it down," Landeskog said of how his 11th goal of the season began. "I was just trying to get a stick on it and realized that I was on my own. I knew right away where I was going with it and didn't try and make it too fancy, just try and get a shot on net. I saw the opening, and it felt good to put it in."

Landeskog now has an eight-game point streak against Dallas, registering six goals and eight assists dating back to Jan. 27, 2014. He recorded a career-high four points (two goals and two assists) in the first meeting this season versus the Stars on Oct. 10.

The Avalanche has won each of those eight contests during Landeskog's streak and is now 11-1 in its last 12 games against the Texas club.

Soderberg opened the game's scoring with 53 seconds left in the first period. He stole a drop pass, deked past Jamie Benn and placed the puck under the right arm of Niemi.

Like Landeskog, Soderberg expertly read the developing play and jumped at a chance.

"I'm not sure if it was Klingberg, but he put [Jason] Spezza in a hard position, too," Soderberg said of the Stars' pass at their blue line. "It was like a 50-50 puck, and I decided to go for it. Then we had a clear 2-on-2.

"They have four forwards out there so if you get a 2-on-2 or something like that, you have to use the forward, and that is what I tried to do."

Dallas jumped on Colorado early, getting several quality scoring chances in the opening minutes but only mustered 10 shots on goal in the first stanza. The Stars did turn up their opportunities in the next two periods and finished with 43 shots on the night.

"This one goes under the category of an ugly win, and we're happy with that," Landeskog said. "To be a good team and be a playoff team, you have to be able to win these ugly ones."

Dallas finished 1-for-5 on the power play. Ugly or not, that's solid defense and a gold star for the Avalanche PK units.

VARLAMOV SHINES BRIGHT

Semyon Varlamov sure didn't look tired as he backstopped the Colorado net for the second consecutive night.

The Avalanche goaltender made 42 saves, and the only rubber that got past him came on a rebound during a Dallas power play. Varlamov stopped 33 shots in a 2-1 shootout win on Friday against St. Louis.

Colorado players blocked 32 shots in the game, but the ones they didn't, they made sure Varlamov could see.

"For me, very important when I see the pucks," Varlamov said. "I think for every goalie that plays in the NHL, it's really hard to find the puck in this league because the forwards, they all try to screen you. They all do a great job in that. So for me and for my defensemen, we talk about that. If the 'D' is shooting from the blue line, I have to see the puck. We've been working a lot on that, and I think the guys are doing a great job."

Originally, head coach Patrick Roy wanted to split the back-to-back set between Varlamov and backup Calvin Pickard but changed his mind after Thursday's practice.

Noting that Varlamov has played well against the Stars in the past, Roy decided to use his primary starter for both outings against Central Division rival. The Russian netminder has now won 10 straight starts against Dallas. He entered Saturday with a 2.40 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in those previous nine contests.

"He was really good tonight," Roy said of his goalie. "I don't try to compare from two years or last year or whatever. It is what it is now, and he played a strong game for us."

Varlamov has won four straight and is 7-2-0 in his last nine games.

He'll now get some much-deserved time off as the Avs have two days between games, and Calvin Pickard is slated to start Wednesday in San Jose for the first half of a back-to-back set in California. Colorado is at Los Angeles on Wednesday before a four-day break for the All-Star Game.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Defenseman Erik Johnson returned to the Avalanche lineup Saturday after a nine-game absence due to a lower-body injury.

Erik Johnson

Johnson was cleared to play prior to Friday's contest against the St. Louis Blues, but with the team playing on back-to-back night, Colorado's training staff thought it would be a better that he only played in only one of the games.

"I knew when it happened that I wouldn't be able to continue for a little bit at least," the rear guard said before Saturday's puck drop. "Fortunately, it wasn't anything too serious, and it was just going to kind of be a week-to-week thing. Luckily it wasn't too long, and I'm ready to go."

The big minutes-eating D-man had his work cut out for him, as he faced two of the league's top three scorers in Dallas' Jamie Benn (57 points) and Tyler Seguin (53 points).

"I think it is good to jump right back into the fire, first night back on the job," he said. "They are probably the best top line in the league right now and it's a good test for me and a good test for the team. I'm excited about it. It's always fun to play against the best players and be matched up against them."

Johnson returned to his position on the Avalanche's top defensive pairing with Francois Beauchemin. He played 23:49 and ended the night with a plus-2 rating, one shot, five blocked shots and two hits.

Benn and Seguin each finished with zero points and a minus-2 rating.

MORE NOTES

Jack Skille hurt his back in the first period and did not return to the contest. On his second shift of the game, Skille had a scoring chance with a drive to the net, but his skate caught an edge and he fell backward and hard into the end wall.

Andrew Bodnarchuk was back in the Colorado lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last five games. He replaced Zach Redmond on the back end. Bodnarchuk was picked up on waivers on Jan. 5 from Columbus.

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