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A night after losing late, Avs hold on to beat Caps

by Rick Sadowski /
DENVER -- This time. The Colorado Avalanche held on.
Forty-eight hours after squandering a third-period lead in a disheartening road loss to San Jose, the Avalanche shut down the Washington Capitals in the third Saturday night and finished off a 2-1 win at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night.

"Not that we sat back the other night, but we still kept playing tonight, which was real important," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We knew that Washington was going to make a hard push on us; they have some dangerous weapons up front. But we kept playing the game, we sustained some pressure at times in the offensive zone and we were able to wear them down a little bit in the third period, which is part of our game plan.

"The best thing was we stuck to the game plan for 60 minutes, even when we hit some bumps a little bit along the way. We stuck with it, and I think that's the reason why we had the success that we did."

While they're winless in nine consecutive road games, the Avalanche have reversed form at home to reel off five consecutive victories and reach the .500 mark (9-9-0) at the Pepsi Center for the first time this season.

Defenseman Erik Johnson, who has been playing his best hockey in recent games, scored the winning goal – his first goal of the season – and added an assist and four official hits in 21:34 of ice time. He was plus-2 and helped the Avalanche kill off all four of the Capitals' power plays, including a 6-on-4 advantage for the final 13.7 seconds.
"I'm finding some chemistry with (partner) Shane O'Brien," said Johnson, who has a goal and three assists in a three-game point-scoring streak. "We're playing pretty well together, and it just feels good to contribute and help the team win. Shane's helped me a lot out there talking and it makes a huge difference when you're communicating. My game's grown over the past couple games, and it definitely helps when you're playing with a lot more confidence."

The Avalanche also received strong goaltending from Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who started because former Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov has a sore back. Giguere finished with 25 saves for his fifth win in nine decisions this year and the 236th win of his NHL career, tying him with Reggie Lemelin for 49th on the all-time list.
"Obviously I haven't played that many games so you can't look too much into the stats," said Giguere, who owns a 1.86 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. "My goal this year is to give the team a chance (to win) every time I play and give Varly a rest. Hopefully I can do that consistently."

Johnson broke a 1-1 tie at 14:03 of the second period with a blast from the right point through a crowd in front of goalie Michal Neuvirth.
"The forwards in front of the net made it all happen," Johnson said. "If there's no screen, it doesn't go in. I hadn't really been in a slump that long in my career. I was getting chances and shots and I knew eventually the puck was going to find the back of the net."

Johnson, who had an assist on Cody McLeod's first-period goal, scored 54 seconds after Washington's Alexander Semin tied the game. Semin skated into the right circle and fired the puck over Giguere's stick and between his pads at 13:09. It was Semin's sixth goal of the season and his first in nine games.

Giguere shut the door after that and made a big stop against Alex Ovechkin, who had a team-high seven shots, on a power play.

"I was a little over-aggressive on it, but it is a save and I'll take it," Giguere said.

McLeod opened the scoring at 2:49 of the first period with his first goal of the season. After skating across the blue line close to the left-wing boards, McLeod launched a shot that fooled Neuvirth and sailed over his glove.

"I just tried to get it on net and I don't think he saw it," said McLeod, who later in the period fought with former Avalanche teammate and good friend Matt Hendricks.

"When you get hit in the face a couple of times, you get mad and you just start swinging back," McLeod said. "Part of the job, try and get some energy back in the building and I thought we picked up our game afterwards."

The Capitals, now 4-5-0 since Dale Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach on Nov. 29, had won four of six games heading into Saturday's visit to Denver -- their first Dec. 15, 2009.
"It was a tight game out there," Hunter said. "It was the kind of game where we knew whoever scored their second goal was going to win the game. We played tight and they played tight. They scored the second goal and that was the difference."

The Avalanche also dominated faceoffs, winning 33 of 52 draws for a 63 percent success rate.

The Capitals played most of the game without center Mathieu Perreault. He took five shifts in the first period but became ill and wasn't able to continue.
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