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Avalanche move ahead of Blackhawks with victory

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- In what might have been a Stanley Cup Playoff preview Wednesday at Pepsi Center, the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 and moved into second place in the Central Division.

Colorado (43-18-5) took a one-point lead (91-90) on Chicago (38-14-14) with 16 games left in the regular season. The Avalanche won four of five games between the teams.

"Yeah, we're happy right now, but we're not satisfied," said Avalanche center Matt Duchene, who had a goal and an assist to stretch his scoring streak to nine games (five goals, nine assists). "We're going to keep pushing. We want to try and climb as high as we possibly can. This is a nice accolade to have right now and we just have to keep it going."

The Blackhawks closed within 3-2 with 2:17 left in regulation when Brandon Saad knocked in the rebound of Andrew Shaw's shot during a goalmouth scramble 15 seconds after goalie Antti Raanta left the ice for a sixth attacker.

Raanta went to the bench again with 1:34 remaining, but the Avalanche held on. Goalie Semyon Varlamov made a stop against Saad with 4.9 seconds to play and finished with 37 saves for his 100th NHL win.

"They threw the kitchen sink at us in the third and we withstood it," Duchene said. "Even the goal we gave up with the goalie pulled, we didn't give them much there. It was kind of a hack and whack at it and it went in. It was unfortunate, but give them credit. They came hard. We did a good job only giving up one goal 5-on-5."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with the result, but didn't seem too concerned about how the season series went against the Avalanche.

"Over the course of the regular season against certain teams, your record isn't as good as you'd like," he said. "It looks like a landslide against you, but every game's been different, every game has been close. I didn't mind our game tonight. Very even, very competitive. We gave up an early goal, the first goal of the game, it's kind of what's gone on against them all year. We're playing from behind, we chipped away, chipped away to get ourselves back in the game with a chance in the end to tie it. When they scored on a 5-on-3, it was a big one."

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy called the victory a "character win" without injured forwards PA Parenteau (knee), Paul Stastny (back) and Alex Tanguay (hip surgery).

"It certainly means a lot to us," Roy said. "I'm so proud of this group. I think our guys showed a lot of character. It's amazing, the depth that we have, but at the same time how resilient our players have been. They play with pride, they play with heart."

The Avalanche snapped an 0-for-13 drought on power plays at 10:53 of the third period when Ryan O'Reilly scored on a 5-on-3 advantage for a 3-1 lead.

Duchene took a shot from low in the right circle that Raanta stopped, but O'Reilly handled the rebound at the edge of the crease and swept it in for his team-high 25th goal.

"They were playing pretty high and O'Reilly had a lot of room there," Duchene said. "I tried to get the puck towards him. He has great hands and I knew he'd finished that one off. It was a big goal and obviously the game winner. It was what we needed."

The goal came with five seconds left on the two-man advantage with Shaw (interference) and Marcus Kruger (delay of game) in the penalty box.

"I had a lot of room out there and Dutchie is really poised with the puck and he took a quick shot," O'Reilly said. "If it didn't go in, it was going to drop right to my stick. It was a smart play by him. I had tons of time in front and I just had to move it over and put it in."

The Avalanche took a 2-0 lead on goals from Brad Malone late in the first period and by Duchene early in the second.

Malone was recalled from Lake Erie in the American Hockey League on Wednesday, along with rookie Paul Carey, because the Avalanche were down to 10 forwards without Parenteau, Stastny and Tanguay.

Malone bounced the puck to himself off the boards in the neutral zone, skated down left wing and took a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle that handcuffed Raanta and wound up in the net at 18:24.

"The first one was not the kind of goal you want to give up," said Raanta, who had 26 saves. "Lots of good things and a couple not so good things. Still, it’s a learning experience."

Duchene was alone in the right circle after Jamie McGinn's shot deflected to him and he fired the puck by Raanta at 19 seconds of the second period for the 2-0 lead.

"It was a little give-and-go hockey," Duchene said. "He tried to throw it on net and it got a nice little bounce and it came over to me. I missed one earlier in the game when I hit [Raanta] in the shoulder and I saw an opportunity where I wanted to rip it on net and get it up where I wanted it and it found its way in."

The Blackhawks outshot the Avalanche 14-8 in the second period after Quenneville put a Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line together and got on the board at 8:23 when Kane scored his 29th goal of the season, tying Sharp for the team lead.

Kane skated down right wing, put a move on Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda and beat Varlamov to the short side.

"They're great players," Roy said. "It's amazing to see how hungry they remain. It's good for our players to see that. I think we're learning a lot from players like this."

The Avalanche gave up at least one power-play goal in seven of the previous nine games, but killed all three of the Blackhawks' advantages.

"Give them credit, they're a good team, they played well," Toews said. "But I guess we need to find that urgency and determination we had later in the game and bring that right from the start, especially with their speed and energy. Getting behind against that team, it's not an easy thing to come back, especially with the way their goaltender is playing. We need to find a way to be better early in games.

"Maybe we can learn our lesson now that games aren't going to get easier this time of the year. It's time to play hard, it's time to play playoff-style hockey if we want to win games. That's another two points we let slip, six in a row against this team."

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