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Varlamov Doesn't Miss A Beat vs. New Jersey

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov backed up his words with his play on the ice.

After telling head coach Patrick Roy on Thursday morning that he was feeling "100 percent" after a groin issue kept him out of the Avs' last game, Varlamov played an all-around solid contest at Pepsi Center against the New Jersey Devils. He made 23 saves through overtime and two more in the three-round shootout to help Colorado to a 3-2 victory, moving the team to within six points of a postseason spot.

"I'm really happy with this game and looking forward to playing against Calgary," Varlamov said afterward.

For the Avalanche, the next game is an important one, like they all are at this time of the year. Colorado hosts the Calgary Flames on Saturday night at Pepsi Center in a matchup of teams looking to play past April 11.

The Avs starting netminder had missed Tuesday's game against Los Angeles after hurting his groin late in Sunday's win at Minnesota. He skated both Tuesday and Thursday morning before feeling comfortable enough to get back in the crease.

Prior to his absence against the Kings, Varlamov had played in 22 consecutive games and 30 of the team's previous 31 contests.

"I'm healthy right now," he said. "When you play a lot of games, sometimes you feel somewhere is uncomfortable and you have to battle through those small injuries and try to keep playing."

Varlamov came up big for the Avalanche in the first period on Thursday, making 13 saves on 13 shots.

"I guess the guys wanted to make sure that he was ready," Roy joked. "[They gave] him some good chances in the first. He was phenomenal in the first. He made some great saves and kept us there."

After the opening stanza, the Avs settled down defensively and allowed only 11 shots in the next 45 minutes. Colorado finished with 23 blocked shots, 13 of them coming in the second period alone.

However after not seeing much rubber in the second half of the game, Varlamov came up with the biggest stop of the night with 1:27 left in overtime. He made a glove save on a shot by Jon Merrill, who was all alone at the right circle after receiving a cross-slot pass.

"He's been great all year. No difference tonight," said John Mitchell of Varlamov. "He stood on his head for us, and he's been doing it all year and we're going to need him down the stretch too."

The only pucks that were able to get past the Russian netminder came on a perfect slap shot by Andy Greene that just snuck inside the right post in the middle period and a shootout tally from Jacob Josefson that Varlamov was only able to get a piece of with his right pad.

Varlamov, the NHL's second star for the week of March 2-8, has now won a season-high four consecutive games. He has a 0.75 goals-against average and .976 save percentage in those contests.

It looks like the Colorado keeper picked up right where he left off.

LINE SHAKEUP WORKS

After a lackluster first period, head coach Patrick Roy switched up his line combinations for the second. It was a wakeup call for the Avs, and the team responded.

One of the changes was moving John Mitchell from the fourth line to a top-six group with center Matt Duchene and right wing Jarome Iginla, and the new trio connected 2:27 into the middle stanza.

"Why I put him there? Because he is a skilled player, and we needed to get some offense," Roy said of moving Mitchell. "Obviously I was not happy with his play, that is why I put him on the fourth line. Tonight it is not what the coach thinks, it is what the team needs. I thought that was the right thing to do, and hopefully that can get his game going.

"Sometimes changing positions could be good. He played wing before. I thought he did a lot of good things on that line. He made a good play on that goal."

Mitchell helped create traffic in front of goalie Cory Schneider that allowed the puck to pop out to Iginla, who tallied on a seeing-eye shot. Mitchell earned an assist on the play, his first point since scoring Feb. 24 versus Nashville.

"That was a work of art," Mitchell joked. "I kick it to Dutchy. He kicks it to Iggy, and it's a goal."

The Avs had solid puck possession after the goal, and went on to outshoot the Devils 26-11 in the final two periods and overtime.

"Every now and then he switches them up and makes a call. Tonight, once it was switched up, it is kind of a wakeup call for all of us as forwards," Iginla said. "It's a different dynamic. I thought each line was going after that after a sluggish first period."

MORE POSTGAME NOTES

•Colorado is 4-1-0 in its last five games, 7-3-0 in its last 10 and 9-4-0 in its last 13.

•The Avs have won four straight over the Devils and are 7-0-1 in their last eight games versus New Jersey…Colorado has also won the last four meetings against New Jersey here in Denver.

•The Avs are 8-2-0 in their blue jerseys this year and 16-4-2 in the blue sweaters since the start of last season...Colorado is wearing its third jerseys two more times this season (March 28 vs. Buffalo and April 9 vs. Winnipeg).

•The Avalanche improved to 9-4-0 in shootouts this season.

•The Avs have won their last four games against Eastern Conference opponents and are now 16-10-5 versus Eastern teams this year (9-5-1 at home).

Semyon Varlamov improved to 6-3-0 in shootouts this season, stopping .697% (23/33)…Varly is 24-14 all-time in shootouts, turning aside .740% (94/127).

•Varlamov has started 23 of the last 24 games and 31 of the last 33.

Jarome Iginla moved into a tie with Joe Sakic, as well as Vincent Damphousse and Dean Prentice, for 40th place on the all-time games played list with 1,378.

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