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Avalanche hold Central lead after win vs. Canucks

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was the last player in the Colorado Avalanche locker room, explaining changes in his style after a franchise-record win when his coach walked by and extended his hand.

"Thanks for beating my record, Varly," Patrick Roy said with a big smile.

Varlamov made 38 saves in a 4-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night, breaking Roy's single-season record with his 41st win and lifting the Avalanche into first place in the Central Division.

"The coach is very happy; we're going to call Patrick tomorrow to let him know Varly beat the record," Roy joked with reporters outside the room a few minutes later. "I am sure he's going to be OK with it"

A lot of Avalanche records may fall before their remarkable season ends.

Defenseman Tyson Barrie scored the game-winning goal on a 2-on-1 break with 7:30 left in the third period, and John Mitchell scored into an empty net with 43 seconds left to match the Colorado record of 52 regular-season wins. Paul Stastny scored the other two goals to help the Avalanche extend their season-best point streak to nine games (8-0-1).

Colorado and the St. Louis Blues each have 111 points with two games left. The Avalanche, who hold the tiebreaker over St. Louis, also moved four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks and are now guaranteed home-ice advantage in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Home-ice guaranteed is huge," Stastny said. "Chicago is off our backs now, and we can get on St. Louis' back, but we just want to keep playing good hockey, finding ways to win and fine tune our game for playoffs."

Barrie already has his game ready for big moments.

On the go-ahead goal, he toe-dragged defenseman Alexander Edler down and out as he cut into the middle of the ice, and then used teammate Maxime Talbot as a decoy before firing the puck past goalie Jacob Markstrom high on the blocker side.

"Pure poise, such a beautiful goal," Stastny said.

It was the 22-year-old defenseman's 13th goal, five of which have been game-winners, and it came in front of "20 to 25" friends and family members.

"Anytime you can get a goal in front of family and friends it's awesome," said Barrie, who is from Victoria, a 90-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. "Coming over here and watching games when I was a kid was awesome, and to have family in the building and score a goal is always special."

It was a special night for Varlamov too. He made some great stops late, including a glove stop on Edler from the slot with five minutes left to play, to preserve the win and break the Colorado record set by Roy in 2001.

"It's a big deal for me, for sure," Varlamov said. "It means a lot, but without my teammates I could not have broke that record. They've done a great job for me."

Varlamov, who leads the NHL in wins and is third with a .927 save percentage, was also quick to credit Roy and goaltending coach Francois Allaire for improving his game, simplifying his positioning and improving his post-play techniques.

"I'm pretty lucky to have Patrick as coach, and Francois Allaire is one of the best goalie coaches in the world, for sure," Varlamov said. "He helped me a lot this year, changing my style a little bit. Those two have done a great job."

Markstrom is making similar style changes under Canucks goaltending coach Roland Melanson, but it wasn't enough in his first start for Vancouver.

"Not good enough," said Markstrom, who made 24 saves in his first start since being acquired from the Florida Panthers as part of the Roberto Luongo trade March 4.

It was Markstrom's first NHL start since Dec. 20, but the promising 6-foot-6 Swedish goaltender is still looking for his first NHL win since Oct. 11.

"We hung Markstrom out to dry," Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler said. "He played good for us and a couple of those goals we hung hum out to dry and he had no chance."

Markstrom looked good at times, and the goals included a breakaway for Stastny and the 2-on-1 for Barrie, but he wasn't satisfied with the result.

"It felt good to be out there and everything felt good, but obviously you want to start with a win," Markstrom said.

There haven't been a lot of wins for Vancouver this season.

Henrik Sedin and David Booth scored, and defenseman Dan Hamhuis had two assists for the Canucks, who were eliminated from playoff contention Monday, fired president and general manager Mike Gillis on Tuesday, and named former captain Trevor Linden president of hockey operations Wednesday.

"We played well, we played hard. It takes us a lot of scoring chances to score a goal," coach John Tortorella said. "That has been a recurring theme throughout the year, but I have no beef with our team as far as how hard they played."

Sedin opened the scoring on a deflection at the side of the crease, knocking Hamhuis' point shot through traffic past Varlamov low on the blocker side.

Stastny tied it less than five minutes later on a breakaway. After stealing the puck from rookie Nicklas Jensen at the Colorado blue line, Stastny skated in alone and snapped a quick shot through Markstrom's five-hole before he could get down.

"I don't get a lot of breakaways, so I just try to make sure I don't get caught and then quick release," Stastny said. "These goalies are so big, so I think the quicker releases, five-hole is always a good spot. It was a big goal for us."

Stastny put the Avalanche ahead 5:21 into the third period. Markstrom made a good right-pad save on defenseman Erik Johnson's one-timer off a nice pass from rookie Nathan MacKinnon, but the rebound went to Stastny alone in the slot, and he quickly fired in his 25th goal high on the blocker side.

"We had an unbelievable shift," Stastny said. "We were pressuring them for about a minute, one of our better shifts of the year, and we got rewarded at the end."

Booth tied it 1:39 later, corralling the puck after a Hamhuis point shot bounced off the end boards and beating Varlamov high from the side of the net.

That set up Barrie for more heroics.

"Those are huge points for us," Barrie said. "Varly was outstanding like he has been all year and these next two games are big. We know what's on the line."

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