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Avalanche edge Blackhawks on late goal by Iginla

by Rick Sadowski /

DENVER -- The Chicago Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday in their final tuneup before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks (48-28-6) learned a few hours before the game that they were locked into third place in the Central Division and will play the second-place Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round because the St. Louis Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2.

Rather than risk injury heading into the playoffs, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville rested captain Jonathan Toews and defenseman Duncan Keith. He already had planned to start backup goalie Scott Darling, who had 21 saves, to get No. 1 Corey Crawford some extra rest.

Quenneville said he isn't concerned that the Blackhawks concluded the season with four consecutive regulation losses, all by one goal.

"We'll be fine," he said. "We'll get to practice and get excited about Monday where we're at. The last four games were pretty comparable, all tight games; penalty was the differential. All four games, same script."

Quenneville said it means "absolutely zero" that the Predators lost their final six games.

"Everybody starts fresh, everything is even," he said. "Games are on the line, and traditionally we'll find a way to get points in these games. Making the playoffs, we wanted to finish as high as we could. Obviously winning the division was our goal, and we fell short. This is the type of year when you look at who's in, it was a war, it was a battle, and that's what we set out to do, get in the playoffs. Let's get excited now."

Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla scored two power-play goals, the second one with 32.9 seconds remaining in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. He ended with 29 goals in his first season in Colorado.

The Avalanche went on their second power play of the game with 2:01 to play when Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger was penalized for tripping Ryan O'Reilly. Iginla scored from high in the left circle off a pass from Alex Tanguay.

Colorado (39-31-12) missed the playoffs, going from first in the Central Division to worst, but they completed the season with four wins in the final five games to finish with 90 points.

"It's a tough feeling right now, but we feel that during the year we've grown in some areas, learned some things and we're getting better as a team," Iginla said. "We wanted to finish playing the right way and we were able to do that. There are good teams that are out of the playoffs, and we know that we're one of them.

"We got off to a real tough start in the first 20 games, and it was a tough road back. We know that was probably the biggest thing that cost us, but we went through a lot of things as a group, and there's lots of positives. I'm real excited to be here with this group and excited for things to come."

The Blackhawks tied the game 2-2 with 4:40 to play in the third period. Brandon Saad drove to the net and redirected Marian Hossa's pass behind goalie Semyon Varlamov for his 23rd goal. Varlamov had 28 saves.

The Avalanche grabbed a 2-1 lead at 14:21 of the second period on Iginla's first power-play goal. Zach Redmond passed to Iginla at the top of the left circle for a one-timer with Colorado's Joey Hishon screening Darling.

Chicago's Patrick Sharp tied the game 1-1 at 8:03 of the second on a 3-on-2 rush with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw after Colorado defenseman Jan Hejda broke his stick behind the play. Sharp took a drop pass from Bickell and launched a shot into the top right corner of the net for his 16th goal.

The Avalanche took a 1-0 lead at 10:01 of the first period on Cody McLeod's seventh goal. Defenseman Tyson Barrie was in the right corner when he passed to McLeod in front for a redirection past Darling.

Now Chicago can begin game-planning for Nashville. The Blackhawks went 3-1-0 against the Predators, but one win came in overtime and another in a shootout. They haven't played each other since Dec. 29.

"We haven't seen them in for so many games," Quenneville said. "It's pretty amazing we're going back almost 45 games. They had a great start to the season. They've got a tremendous back end, strong in net (with Pekka Rinne), they have some assets up front. So certainly they're dangerous in a lot of ways. They had a great year from where they were last year. I'm sure they're excited about the playoffs this year. It'll be a great matchup."

The Blackhawks didn't have a power play Saturday, but they were 0-for-11 with the man-advantage in the five previous games. They allowed a power-play goal in four of their final five games.

"The play of our special teams is going to be very important in the playoffs," Hossa said. "We need to get our power play working, get some goals, and we have to do a better job at killing penalties. When you are losing two or three games, you are getting to look at some good new players on opposing teams. The team tonight was moving the puck well."

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