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Avalanche edge Oilers in shootout

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – Semyon Varlamov insists he doesn't like shootouts. But all he does is win them.

The 23-year-old goalie ran his shootout record to 7-0 Saturday in the Colorado Avalanche's 3-2 victory against the Edmonton Oilers at the Pepsi Center in a game his team needed to win to keep its playoff hopes intact in the tightly-bunched Western Conference.

Milan Hejduk and Peter Mueller scored against Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in the shootout while Varlamov was perfect, poking the puck away from Jordan Eberle before making a pad save against Sam Gagner to secure the critical extra point.

"I really don't like shootouts," said Varlamov, who has stopped 19 of 21 attempts this season. "It's a tough situation for the goalie. If the guy scores, you lost. It's a nervous situation for both of us, for me and for the player who tries to score. Nothing special, I just try to stay focused on the shot and to see what the player is going to do.

"Eberle did a great move. I was surprised a little bit. The second one, I just went down. It's a big win for us today. Every point is huge for us. Now we have to continue to work and to keep going."

The Oilers sent the game to overtime on a goal by Taylor Hall with 4:43 left in the third period after Varlamov made a save on Eberle. Hall was on his belly when he managed to poke the loose puck into the net.

Both teams had some chances in the five-minute overtime before Varlamov came through in the clutch again in the shootout.

"We have a lot of confidence in him when we get to that point in the game," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It would have been nice to seal it in regulation, but sometimes it takes 65 minutes and a shootout to win."

Hejduk, who has gone 13 games without scoring, flipped the puck by Khabibulin’s glove in the first round and Mueller, who gave the Avalanche a 2-1 lead in the second period off a Hejduk setup, followed with a similar play in the second round.

"I had a simple move in mind," Mueller said. "You look at Hedgie and kind of see what he did and base your shot on that. I just went in with a simple move and it found the back of the net."

Taylor Hall tied the game 2-2 for the Oilers with 4:43 to play in the third period when, while on his belly, he converted the rebound of Eberle's shot.

"It is a little devastating when they score that one," Mueller said. "Varly made big saves and our 'D' made huge plays to get us to overtime and to the shootout."

The Oilers appeared to tie the game six minutes earlier on a goal by Ales Hemsky, but it was immediately waved off because it was ruled that Gagner interfered with Varlamov, even though a penalty wasn't assessed.

"Goaltender interference doesn't have to be a penalty," Sacco said. "I haven't seen that replay yet, so I can't comment on it too much. They're really protecting the goalies now. If there's not any intent to run into the goalie but you still do, they can wave off the goal and not call a penalty."

Said Gagner: "They said I was in the crease. It is frustrating when you are trying to create offense by getting to the net. The puck was there and I was just trying to get to the puck. I was trying to stay out of the way of the goalie and I thought I did. I thought it was a good goal."

The Avalanche outshot the Oilers 16-8 in the second period when Cody McLeod and Mueller scored goals to wipe out a 1-0 deficit.

Ryan Wilson set up McLeod's goal, which tied the game at 4:44. Wilson skated behind the net and passed to McLeod, who had been knocked to the ice but got up and moved to beneath the left circle for a quick shot for his third goal in the past seven games.

"That was a real big goal for us," Sacco said. "Our so-called fourth line gets a goal to get us going. It's good to see Cody get rewarded. He's been popping in some goals lately. A guy like Cody does a lot of the dirty work and things that go unnoticed, but not by his teammates or the coaching staff. That gave our bench some energy and some life. I thought we played pretty good after that."

Mueller put the Avalanche in front at 10:05. Hejduk, who has been struggling in recent weeks, skated into the Oilers' zone and put a move on defenseman Ryan Whitney before continuing to the net to put a shot on goal. Mueller followed and banged the loose puck in with Khabibulin down and out of the play.

"I was coming 1-on-1 with some speed and I took the 'D' wide," Hejduk said. "The goalie made a pretty good save, but Peter was coming for the rebound and he put it in."

Mueller has collected a goal and 4 assists in a four-game point-scoring streak. The goal was his first in seven games since returning from a torso injury that caused him to miss six games.

The Oilers scored the only first-period goal with 36.1 seconds remaining when Ryan Smyth skated into traffic and nudged the puck underneath Varlamov. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took a drop pass from Eberle and fired a shot from the right circle. Varlamov poked the puck with his stick into the slot and Smyth was in perfect position to whack it home.

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