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Tanguay Breaks Slump As Avs Rally Past Sabres

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Alex Tanguay looked up to the Pepsi Center rafters, stretched out his arms as wide as they could go and thought, 'Finally!'"

It's been a while since Tanguay had the taste of a goal from the end of his hockey stick, but the veteran forward broke out of his slump and came up big in the third period on Wednesday. Tanguay scored the tying goal midway through the stanza and assisted on Francois Beauchemin's winner with 32 seconds remaining to lead the Colorado Avalanche to a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

"Finally," Tanguay said of what was racing through his mind when he saw the puck hit the net's twine. "It's probably the longest slump I've ever had. It's been frustrating."

It was only the forward's third goal of the season and his first since scoring in back-to-back contests on Oct. 29-30, ending a 22-game drought.

As relieved as Tanguay was, his teammates were just as happy to see the 36-year-old rewarded for his efforts over the past two and a half months.

"It's a great feeling," Beauchemin said. "Tangs works hard every day to help us win games. Just seeing him have that good bounce on his side was great."

"Really excited Tangs scored," said goaltender Semyon Varlamov. "He's a really good player. He's a great shooter, but sometimes you don't have the luck. Today he finally scored, and I hope he's going to be on fire the rest of the season."

The Ste-Justine, Quebec, native is just as hopeful.

"I think for the last little while I've been playing better hockey," Tanguay said. "I felt like I should have got rewarded a little bit more. Sometimes that's the way it goes. It's been a tough year for me getting points, but I want to help this team make the playoffs and I know I’ve got better.

"I’m hoping that this will, on a personal level, this will spark me a little bit and I can get going."

Like the rest of the team, Tanguay admittedly didn't have the best first 40 minutes. Yet the Avs were only down by one on the scoreboard, and they came into the third period with more urgency.

Colorado outshot Buffalo 18-5 in the final 20 minutes of regulation and had 16 more shot attempts (23-7). That effort translated into two goals and the club's 10th straight win over the Sabres.

"Tonight I just didn't play very good in the first two periods, and I tried to work hard in the third and got a bounce," Tanguay said. "Like the rest of the guys here, we want to be in the playoffs and this is a gutsy effort. Certainly wasn't pretty by any means. We stuck with it. We played solid defense. We made sure we kept them to the outside for the most part, and we got the bounce at the end that pushed us over the edge. So we'll take it."

Tanguay's tally was the 166th of his career with the Avs, tying him for seventh place on the franchise's all-time list with Valeri Kamensky.

The goal had actually been building for a few minutes as Colorado had a four-minute power play while Buffalo's Evander Kane was serving a high-sticking penalty. The Avalanche failed to capitalize on the double minor, but it used the momentum to keep pressing and finally converted 32 seconds after the infraction expired.

Carl Soderberg's shot from the left circle caromed to the low slot, and Tanguay backhanded the puck off the netminder's glove and into the top of the cage to knot the contest at 1-1 with 10:37 left to play.

"That was a big one," Roy said of the tying goal. "He was right in front of the net, and good things happen when you're there."

The Avs went ahead in the closing seconds after it seemed like the game was destined to go to overtime. A failed clearing attempt by Buffalo resulted in Tanguay beating out two Sabres to the loose puck first at the right wall. He then threw it to the point where Beauchemin's shot went off defenseman's Mark Pysyk's body and past Robin Lehner on the short side.

"Tangs made a nice bank pass off the wall, I just was able to keep it in," Beauchemin said. "The winger was just trying to chip it out so I had a shooting lane, and I just got it there. That was my main focus, not getting it blocked, just put it to the net and got the right bounce."

Maybe that late goal was karma. Colorado lost 2-1 in Columbus on Saturday after the Blue Jackets scored the winner with 1:07 left on a deflection off Cody McLeod's skate, leaving the Avs with zero points in a game where they felt they deserved at least one. This time, the club was the beneficiary of a late tally and left with two big points in hand heading into back-to-back division contests against St. Louis and Dallas.

"We'll certainly take the points tonight and get ready for Friday," Tanguay said. "We all see the standings. We all see where we stand. We all know how important the two points are, and we're happy about that."

There is still a lot of time left in the season, but with the Avalanche's victory and the Minnesota Wild's loss in Anaheim, Colorado is just one point behind the Wild for the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

VARLY PLAYS IN GAME 300

Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov played in his 33rd game of the season and the 300th of his NHL career on Wednesday night.

"For myself, it's huge," said Varlamov. "To play 300 games in the NHL, I never knew when I first started to play hockey that I would play in the NHL and get those numbers, 300. I want to continue, I want to keep going. I want to keep playing as long as I can."

The Russian netminder joined the Avalanche in a trade on July 1, 2011, and he has been the club's primary backstopper ever since. Varlamov has played 241 of his 300 games in a Colorado uniform and ranks second in franchise history in wins with 123, trailing only Patrick Roy (262).

In the milestone contest, he finished with 27 saves, with the only shot getting by him coming from Evander Kane during a Buffalo man advantage in the second period.

Varlamov improved his record to 17-12-3, goals-against average to 2.70 and save percentage to .913 on the year. After starting the season 3-6-1 and suffering a groin injury in November, he has bounced back nicely with a 14-6-2 mark.

BUFFALO FACE-OFF

For the first time since the draft-day trade last summer, forward Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Nikita Zadorov faced their former team.

Grigorenko and Zadorov, along with prospect and University of Michigan captain JT Compher and a second-round draft pick (which was eventually traded to San Jose for two additional picks), were acquired by the Avs from the Sabres on June 26 in exchange for forwards Jamie McGinn and Ryan O'Reilly.

"I'm sure it's going to be strange because I've never done that before," Zadorov said of playing former teammates before the game. "But it's a hockey game, same thing. You go on the ice and working 100 percent."

Grigorenko has fond memories from his time in Buffalo as he played the first 68 games of his NHL career for the Sabres.

"It was a good three years there," he said. "I learned a lot of things there. It was a good experience. Obviously, the team I played my first NHL game for. I'll always remember it."

Both first-round draft picks of Buffalo, Grigorenko was selected 12th in 2010 while Zadorov was picked 16th in 2013. The two Russians each saw time in the league as 18-year-olds with the Sabres before being reassigned to their junior teams.

JOHNSON INJURY UPDATE

Defenseman Erik Johnson continues to make progress from his lower-body injury, participating in morning skate on Wednesday in preparation for the evening's game against the Sabres.

"He practiced today, looked good," Roy said Wednesday morning. "How close he is [to playing], that is another question. He's has practicing well today, and hopefully he'll play soon."

Johnson has missed the last eight games with the injury, suffered on Jan. 4 versus Los Angeles. He ranks second among team blueliners in goals (seven) and is second on the club in blocked shots (93) and ice time (23:29).

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