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Avalanche hang on to defeat Flames

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Alex Tanguay had a goal and an assist, goalie Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves and the Colorado Avalanche held on for a 3-2 win against the Calgary Flames at Pepsi Center on Saturday to continue their push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Avalanche (32-26-11) ended a three-game homestand with a 2-1-0 record. They've won five of their past six games and 10 of 14. Colorado closed to five points of the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

"For sure, we'll keep an eye on everything's that's going on," Tanguay said. "But for us it's about winning our games. If we don't keep winning we're not going to give ourselves a chance. Yes, we'd like to have some help from other teams, but we have to do what we have to do in order to give ourselves that chance."

The Avalanche were 10 points out of the playoffs as recently as March 3.

"We always believed in ourselves," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "The mindset of our players was, 'Let's get a shot at it,' and our guys have been playing hard and practicing hard and coming and being ready every time we touch the ice."

The Flames (38-26-5), who were 5-0-1 in their six previous games, fell to third place in the Pacific Division. Calgary is one point behind the second-place Vancouver Canucks, who defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 earlier Saturday.

The Flames battled back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, and they applied plenty of pressure against Varlamov during a late third-period power play and inside the final two minutes during a 6-on-5 advantage with goalie Karri Ramo on the bench.

"They try to screen the goalie all the time so it was really important for me to see the puck," Varlamov said. "That was a mess in front of the net."

Flames coach Bob Hartley was disappointed with the result, but not the effort.

"We battled like usual," Hartley said. "We can always count on our players to show up in a fight and give everything we had. I thought we deserved way better."

The Avalanche grabbed a 3-1 lead on a goal by John Mitchell at 4:22 of the third period. He maneuvered around Flames defenseman TJ Brodie in the right circle, took a couple of strides toward the net and beat Ramo to the short side.

"The guy was kind of there and I turned like I was going to wrist it at the net and I think I kind of froze him and he tried to block it," Mitchell said. "I just thought, 'I'm going to try something here, pull it on the inside.' Thank God it worked out because if he pokes at it, we could be in trouble. I'm glad that it worked out. [Matt Duchene] was in front of the net with a little bit of a screen. I had a lot of time to walk in and get a good wrister off."

The Flames made it a one-goal again at 5:48 when Lance Bouma skated into the Avalanche zone and took a shot that sailed past Varlamov's stick.

Colorado defenseman Jan Hejda was called for interference with 7:55 remaining, but Varlamov made two saves and the Avalanche killed the penalty. After penalty-killer Nick Holden, lost his stick with about 30 seconds left on the power play, Marc-Andre Cliche handed his to the defenseman.

The Flames went 0-for-3 on power plays after going 7-for-19 in their five previous games. The Avalanche have killed 26 of 27 penalties and 34 of the past 36.

"The guys played really hard and really well," Roy said. "I thought it was a great team effort and a good game to have a solid effort like that."

Trailing 2-0 after two periods, the Flames got within a goal at 3:54 when Mikael Backlund threw a backhand pass through the goalmouth that bounced off David Jones' skate and into the net. The goal was confirmed after a video review.

"I thought it was going to count, but you never know," Jones said. "It's tough to be down 2-0 and then try to fight back. We've been on the good side of things so much this year. We've [rallied] so many times that we have faith. We just came up a little short tonight. That third goal really hurt us."

Tanguay and Ryan O'Reilly scored 1:47 apart in the second period to give the Avalanche their 2-0 lead.

Tanguay scored a power-play goal at 9:40 after the Flames were penalized for having too many men on the ice. Jarome Iginla got the puck to Tanguay along the goal line to Ramo's right, and Tanguay shot the puck off the goalie's pad and into the net.

"When you're on [the power play] for a while we had some chances so maybe he was a little bit tired," Tanguay said of Ramo. "He was off his angle, so why not? I just tried it and fortunately for us it found the back of the net."

O'Reilly made it 2-0 at 11:27. Nate Guenin gained possession in his own end and passed to Tanguay, who brought the puck up ice and got it to O'Reilly in the right circle behind two Flames defenders. He cut to the net and shot the puck past Ramo's glove for his first goal in 18 games and 11th of the season.

Varlamov extended his winning streak to a season-best five games. He has a 1.00 goals-against average and .968 save percentage during the streak.

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