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Avalanche edge Blue Jackets in shootout

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- It had been nearly two months between home wins for the Colorado Avalanche, which rallied for a wild 5-4 shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center.

"It's nice," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said after his team ended an 0-7-1 slide on home ice with its first win here since Jan. 24. "Our fans want to see an entertaining game and I thought our guys provided that tonight. It's important that you play well at home. I'm a big believer in that and I hope this will continue for us down the stretch."

Daniel Winnik's power-play goal with 3.3 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game, goalie Brian Elliott stopped seven shots in overtime and Milan Hejduk scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Avalanche its first two-game winning streak since mid-January.

The Avalanche ended a 0-9-1 drought Saturday with a 3-2 shootout win in Edmonton.

The Blue Jackets, who squandered a 3-1 third-period lead, gained a point but the outcome put a another crimp in their already slim chances of earning a Western Conference playoff berth. They trail eighth-place Anaheim by eight points and have nine games remaining.

"It's frustrating to give up the lead," said R.J. Umberger, who gave the Jackets a 4-3 advantage with 3:05 to go. "We battled hard and played our hearts out for 60-plus minutes. The shootouts have just been an Achilles heel for us. We never should have been there. We should've been able to hold the game off."

The Blue Jackets appeared to be in good shape when Umberger scored his team's second shorthanded goal of the game at the 7-minute mark of the third period for a 3-1 advantage.

Avalanche center Matt Duchene scored two goals 6:52 apart to tie the game, but Umberger scored again to put the Blue Jackets back in front. He drove to the net while gaining inside position on Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles, and the puck wound up in the net when both players collided with Elliott.

A delay-of-game penalty to Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda with 19.6 seconds to play gave the Avalanche a 6-on-4 skating advantage as Elliott had already gone to the bench for an extra attacker.

With time winding down, Duchene won a faceoff in the left circle and Paul Stastny pushed the puck back Erik Johnson at the point. Johnson fired the puck off a Columbus defender and it bounced to Winnik, who knocked it into an open corner.

"Very exciting," Winnik said. "The crowd was obviously ecstatic, and to have all your teammates come over and pile on you like that, it's a great feeling. You see how excited the bench was that wed tied it up."

The Avalanche still had to survive the five-minute overtime and needed some big stops from Elliott to get to the shootout.

"The guys did a great job battling back to tie it up in the last seconds there," said Elliott, who finished with 29 saves, plus three more stops in the shootout. "You want to give us a chance to win with some big saves in the overtime. That's what I tried to do. You have to stand tall and hope they hit you with a couple."

Hejduk, playing in his 900th NHL game, was the Avalanche's first shooter and he fired the puck behind goalie Steve Mason for what proved to be the lone shootout goal.

"I thought we were the better team for most of the night," Umberger said. "I thought we looked like the faster team. You have to give them credit. Their team is young and hungry, and they're fighting for everything they've got."

The teams exchanged first-period goals, with Rick Nash connecting for Columbus at 2:14 and Ryan O'Reilly for Colorado at 5:59.

The Blue Jackets grabbed a 2-1 lead on Derek MacKenzie's shorthanded goal at 10:38 of the second period following a turnover by Johnson.

While Columbus scored two shorthanded goals and killed three penalties before Winnik scored in the waning seconds of regulation, the Blue Jackets failed to connect on two power plays and has gone 0-for-23 with the man advantage over the past seven games.

 "We're not going to lay over and die here," Duchene said. "At this point, we want to be spoilers because we're obviously mathematically eliminated. We just want to finish the season on a good note."f
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