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Trusty Line Reunited, Steps Up in Nashville

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Blake Comeau, Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Soderberg haven't lost the chemistry that made their line so effective in January and February.

The trio was reunited Monday night after nearly six weeks apart, and the three forwards quickly proved they haven't missed a beat. The group scored twice in the first 10:10 of the opening period and helped the Avalanche hold off the Nashville Predators in a 4-3 win at Bridgestone Arena.

Comeau and Landeskog tallied the goals that gave Colorado the 2-0 advantage, while Soderberg had the primary assist on Landeskog's 19th of the season. The Avs' strong push after the opening faceoff was exactly what head coach Patrick Roy wanted to see from his club following a 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

"I was really pleased with the start that we had. It was a chance for us to play a strong game and prove that we weren't going to give up," Roy said. "That is what I said to the guys before the game, 'All year, we never give up.' I thought we were always resilient after losses, and we've been playing really well on the road, and I thought our guys responded really well. They had a really good start. It was a team effort. Put pucks at the net, drove to the net, picked up rebounds, I thought it was the type of start we wanted to have."

The goals weren't flashy by any means, but they were of the hard-working variety—the type of effort that that line had displayed in its first stint together. The pairing was one of the most consistent for the Avalanche earlier this season and often received praise from Roy because of its size, toughness and skill—a key combination to win in this day's NHL.

"I don't know how many games we played earlier in the year, 20-30 games earlier in the year," Landeskog said. "We obviously have some chemistry from before. Good to get back together."

The combo had been totally separated since the Feb. 20 game at the Edmonton Oilers, as Roy was looking to field a more balanced lineup at the time.

It didn't take long for the three players to pick up where they left off.

Comeau opened the scoring at 6:36 of the first period, taking advantage of a turnover and firing a wrist shot past goaltender Pekka Rinne from the slot.

It was Comeau's 100th career NHL tally and came unassisted, but Landeskog played a big part in forcing the giveaway. The Colorado captain buzzed around Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm behind the goal line to force the ill-advised pass to the middle of the Preds' zone. He then positioned himself in front of the netminder to provide a last-second screen.

Landeskog picked up his own score after knocking in a pass from Soderberg just 3:34 later. Soderberg had taken the puck up the wall and behind the goal line before finding his fellow Swede battling for position in front.

"Carl obviously has got a stop-up move that he likes to do, and I knew it was coming to the net," said Landeskog, who is now just one goal away from his centennial milestone as well. "I just tried to get there, my stick on the ice. Good to get rewarded with a couple in the first."

Soderberg now has 48 points this season, tying a career high that he set in 2013-14 with the Boston Bruins. His 36 assists this year are also a personal best.

Jack Skille scored 90 seconds after Landeskog to extend Colorado's lead to 3-0 in the first frame, and Shawn Matthias tallied the eventual game-winner with 7:47 left in regulation to make it a 4-1 contest at the time.

However after Matthias' goal, the Soderberg-centered line's work was just beginning. The Predators roared back with two goals in 24 seconds to cut their deficit to one, and Roy threw out his trusty pairing to preserve the lead.

The trio was on the ice for 1:38 of the final 2:35 and only allowed two shots on goal on five attempts in that period.

"Soda's line did a great job at the end, battling hard, keeping pucks on the wall, playing hard," Matthias said. "They were hard to play against tonight. 'D' played well. It was a good team win. We needed that one. We're still fighting for our lives here, so it was a big win for our club going into a back-to-back."

Offensively and defensively, Comeau, Landeskog and Soderberg stepped up their game when the team needed it.

That type of response was likely what Roy had in mind when he challenged the line prior to the game.

"Landy with Comeau and big Carl, I'm sure they are capable of giving us a little more," Roy said after morning skate. "It will be interesting to see."

It appears as if the trio gave more than enough as the Avalanche now carries two more points and heads to St. Louis for an outing against the Blues on Tuesday night. Colorado is just three points behind Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

COACH'S CHALLENGE WIN

Head coach Patrick Roy and the Avs have had plenty of heartbreak when it has come to using the coach's challenge this season. However, all of those previous disputes were for goaltender interference.

Monday night was the first time that Roy challenged an offside call, and he finally picked up a win. It ended up being a potentially game-deciding appeal as well.

The Predators had scored with 2:43 left in the second period and thought they had cut their deficit to 3-2, but Colorado video coordinator Brett Heimlich radioed the coaches on the bench that the rush up the ice looked to be offside.

"Brett saw it, and he said he was pretty sure it was offside," Roy said after the game.

"We had to take the chance, and it turned out in our favor tonight."

The on-ice linesmen agreed, noting that the Predators' Colin Wilson was just barely offside along the left-wing boards before the puck entered the Avs' zone.

Colorado went on to extend its lead to three goals before Nashville rallied with two quick strikes late in the third period to make for an intense finish.

"It was a break. Sometimes it has to go our way," Roy said of the challenge. "It was an important win for us."

This is the first season where NHL coaches can challenge goals that were the result of either offside or goaltender interference. If Roy had lost the challenge, he would have forfeited his lone timeout for the game.

PENALTY KILL UP TO ITS JOB

Colorado killed off both Predators power plays on Monday, including one from a cross-checking penalty on Blake Comeau with 10:49 left. The Avs were hanging onto the momentum with a two-goal lead over Nashville at the time.

The Avalanche’s PK unit has now killed 40-of-42 penalties over the last 14 games, which included a streak of 25 straight from Feb. 24 to March 12.

Colorado entered the contest with a 95-percent kill rate on penalties, which led all NHL teams since Feb. 24. The Avs have now killed 52-of-their-last-55 penalties (94.5 percent) dating back to Feb. 12.

VARLY TO START VS. BLUES

Despite the three goals against, goaltender Semyon Varlamov will be back between the pipes in less than 24 hours.

Roy confirmed after the game that Varlamov would start in the second half of the back-to-back set on Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues.

Varlamov made 32 saves on 35 shots against the Predators. He was especially tested late as Nashville fired 16 shots in the third period as it attempted a comeback.

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