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Varlamov, Avalanche Extend Winning Streaks

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

It was a game where Semyon Varlamov didn't necessarily have to be at his best in the crease, but that didn't seem to matter much for the Colorado Avalanche goaltender, who had at least a two-goal cushion for most of the night.

Varlamov put together another solid performance by making 39 saves and helping lead the Avalanche to a 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night at Pepsi Center.

The win was the team's fifth straight and Varlamov's sixth in a row, and it moves Colorado one game over even with a 17-16-1 record.

"We had a tough schedule and our players deserve a lot of credit for it," said Avs head coach Patrick Roy of the team battling back into striking distance of the playoffs. "It's nice to see them be rewarded by it. They work hard. They believe in themselves. I'm very proud of our players."

Varlamov once again led the charge as he faced 40 shots and saw another 30 that either missed wide or were blocked in front.

Blake Comeau scored shorthanded 1:12 into the game to give the Avalanche an early lead and made the Oilers start to press for a tying score that never came. Varlamov made 13 saves in the first period, 14 in the second and 12 in the third.

"My job is stopping pucks," Varlamov said. "It doesn't matter how many shots, 15 or 40, you have to try and stop all of them."

The only piece of rubber to get past the Avs netminder came on Andrej Sekera's shot that hit the crossbar and landed in the top left corner of the cage at 2:58 of the third period. That made it a 3-1 contest, but it was as close as Edmonton got as Varlamov denied the next 10 pucks to come his way and Colorado got insurance goals from Jarome Iginla and Jack Skille.

"It seems like the last little while he's been making those key saves at key moments of the game," Comeau said of Varlamov. "He's a huge reason [why] we're playing as well as we are. We need him to stay that way."

Varlamov has only allowed six goals in his six-game winning streak, tying the longest of his career for the fourth time. He has made 261 saves on 270 shots for a 0.99 goals-against average and .970 save percentage during his current run (364 minutes).

"Varly is playing so well right now," Roy said. "When you're looking at him, it seems like it is very easy. He seems like he is under control. He's moving well. He sees the puck big. He's in the zone right now. We feed off of him right now. He's the big reason why we're having a good turnaround."

The Samara, Russia, native stopped the first 29 shots he faced Saturday night, with maybe his best coming on a scoring chance by Taylor Hall in the closing seconds of the middle stanza. Hall got a good whack on a bouncing puck in front, but Varlamov was able to stretch out his right leg enough to deny the forward.

"That was a pretty lucky bounce," Varlamov said of the puck finding Hall alone in the low slot. "It bounced on him and the net was wide open. I had my only chance to stretch my leg, and he shot right in my leg. I was kind of lucky I guess."

After the play and the second period horn sounded, Hall went over to the Avs netminder and tapped him on the pad as if to say, "Nice save. You got me on that one."

"You are not going to see this very often. I can tell you that," Varlamov said of the gesture. "Huge respect for Taylor Hall. He's a good player. He's a leader out there with the Oilers. When he's on the ice, his line creates lots of scoring chances. It's tough to play against him."

Right now, Varlamov isn't easy to play against either.

ONE GOAL CLOSER

It should be no surprise that Jarome Iginla scored against his hometown Oilers and moved another goal closer to a distinctive milestone.

Iginla

The Edmonton, Alberta, native recorded his ninth of the season at 7:05 of the third period as the puck found its way to him in the low slot, and the right wing buried his shot five-hole after making a move.

"I was alone in front and then you almost have too much time to think about it," Iginla said. "Fortunate I was able to hesitate and [go] quick five-hole and it went in. Playing with Tangs and Mitch tonight, we had some good chances for the first couple of periods. You try not to get frustrated, you try and stay with it, but it felt good to see one finally go in."

The tally broke a nine-game goalless drought and was the forward's 598th of his NHL career, moving him just two markers shy of becoming the 19th player to score 600 goals.

"It was a big one for us, made it 4-1, but at the same time great effort by [Alex] Tanguay and [John] Mitchell on the play," Roy said. "It's nice for him to get rewarded because I thought he had some good games lately and didn't have much to show for it. It's nice to see that happen."

Iginla now has 88 points (38 goals and 50 assists) in 95 career games against the Oilers, his most versus any team and the most of any active skater against Edmonton. His 38 goals against the club he grew up cheering for are tied for the most versus a single opponent (Arizona).

GOING SHORTY

It didn't seem like the start the Avalanche wanted, but Blake Comeau quickly changed that.

Comeau scored his fifth goal of the season just 1:12 into the contest against the Oilers, putting the Avs on the early offensive after the team was given a too many men on the ice penalty. The forward recorded his second short-handed tally of the season just 18 seconds after the infraction, racing for the loose puck in the neutral zone before placing it past the glove of Edmonton goalie Anders Nilsson on a breakaway.

"I don't know how it got out to the middle of the ice, but I think Carl [Soderberg] might have took a little bit of a swipe at it," Comeau said. "I had my momentum going that way and then I just tried to settle it down, it was rolling a little bit, try and get it off as quick as I could."

It was the Avs' third short-handed score of the season and was a momentum-changing play of the contest.

"We got big goals from our guys," Roy said. "Shorthanded at the start of the game was big for us to take the lead. We talked about it, playing with the lead means a lot to us."

Comeau is the first Avalanche player to score more than one short-handed goal in a season since Gabriel Landeskog recorded three in 2012-13. Comeau's previous 'shorty' also came via a breakaway on Nov. 14 at Montreal.

Colorado has scored the first goal in all five games of its season-high win streak and has outscored opponents 8-1 in the first period. The Avs have actually scored first in seven straight games overall.

The Avalanche improved its record to 14-8-1 overall when notching the first tally.

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