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Varlamov Wins Vezina-Finalist Faceoff

by Alyssa Romeo / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche beat the Boston Bruins for the second time this season on Wednesday night at Pepsi Center by tying the game in the last two minutes of regulation and going on to win 3-2 in a shootout.

The Avalanche outshot the Bruins 36-24 in the contest, and Nathan MacKinnon netted the only goal in the tiebreaker to secure the come-from-behind win for Colorado before the All-Star break.

At the forefront of the victory was goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who made 22 saves and stopped all three of Boston's attempts in the shootout. It was Varlamov’s 90th victory as a member of the Avalanche, passing David Aebischer (89) for fourth place on the franchise's all-time wins list. The Samara, Russia native owns a 90-69-18 record in 179 games with Colorado.

In its first home game since the team's recent 1-2-2 road trip, the Avalanche was very aware of the importance of picking up points against the Bruins but also registering a win in its continual push for a playoff spot.

Helping with that push was Varlamov, who was facing off against another top goalie in the NHL.

In the 2013-14 season, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and Varlamov were rated as the top two netminders in the NHL with league-leading save percentages of .930 and .927, respectively. Rask posted a 36-15-6 record and allowed two or fewer goals in 37-of-58 starts. In comparison, Varlamov boasted a total of 41 victories, surpassing current coach and former Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy (40, 2000-01) for the most in a single season in franchise history.

It had been long overdue for these goaltenders to start in net against one another. They last faced off on Oct. 10, 2011 in Boston, with Varlamov making 30 saves in a 1-0 shutout win for the Avs. Rask finished with 35 saves in that contest.

On Wednesday, the starters were not only bringing their past rivalry back to the ice but were also bringing their A-games from their last few outings as well.

Varlamov entered Wednesday's contest having played in 11 of the team's last 12 games, going 6-4-1. During that stretch, he also made a franchise-record 54 saves in a road shutout victory over Chicago on Jan. 6 and earned honors as the league's second star of the week.

Rask was making his sixth consecutive start—including his second in as many nights as he stopped 36 shots in Boston's win on Tuesday in Dallas—and had a 6-1-3 record in his last 10 games.

With Rask playing so well recently, it was no surprise to Colorado center Ryan O'Reilly that shooting against the Bruins netminder would be a challenge.

“On Rask you want to change your angle," O'Reilly said. "He is a good goalie, he is big and he is going to make good saves. It was definitely nice for us to get pucks to the net and wear him down.”

O'Reilly was up to the challenge that Rask presented and scored with 1:45 left in the third period, tying the game 2-2 and helping force overtime after Varlamov had been pulled for an extra attacker on the ice.

With Rask and Varlamov facing each other for the first time in an NHL arena in over three years, Wednesday’s shootout win was much more than just two points for 'Varly' and Colorado.

Varlamov and Rask were two of the three finalists last season for the Vezina Trophy, recognizing the top goalie in the NHL. With 103 voting points, Rask took home his first Vezina award while Varlamov was a close second with 90 total points. Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop was the third finalist with 32 points.

Despite Rask becoming the second Bruins goalie in the past six seasons to win the top goalie award (Tim Thomas, 2009 and 2011), Colorado did not go home empty handed as the club was honored with three postseason trophies at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. Ryan O’Reilly won the Lady Byng Trophy, coach Patrick Roy was honored with the Jack Adams Award and rookie Nathan MacKinnon took home the Calder Memorial Trophy.

After the long absence, the two goalies brought their competitive spirits back to the ice. Varlamov was especially good early in Wednesday's contest, stopping several good scoring chances by Boston in the opening minutes before making 11 saves in the second period.

The Avs tested Rask in the third period with 15 shots before firing four more in overtime.

"Their goalie played really well," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. "He made some good saves. They certainly defend very well. It was a hard-fought game I thought."

It was also a game that moved Colorado to 10th place in the Western Conference, only two spots and three points away from a potential playoff wild card position.

The victory advanced the Avs' record to 20-18-10 on the season as they enter their four-day All-Star break.

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