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Avalanche nip Blues 3-2 in shootout

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – Drafted as a defensive forward with the 33rd pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Ryan O'Reilly has turned into quite an offensive threat for the Colorado Avalanche.

The 20-year-old center scored the tying goal midway through the third period Friday night and added connected for the lone goal in a shootout to lift the Colorado Avalanche to a 3-2 win against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center.

O'Reilly, who had a goal and two assists in Wednesday's 6-1 win against New Jersey, also set up Milan Hejduk's first-period goal and has taken over the team scoring lead with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 26 games.

The Avs has won two games in a row for the first time since a five-game streak from Oct. 10-17. They've won three of the past four games and are 4-3-0 on an eight-game homestand that concludes Sunday against Detroit.

"He's been doing this for a while now," coach Joe Sacco said of O'Reilly. "He's been playing really well. The kid's been showing signs and emerging as one of the top players. His line with Hejduk and (Gabriel) Landeskog, they seem to be fitting well together. I've liked the way they've played. It's not just Ryan. Obviously Milan's buried a couple of goals and I like Landy, too, because he gets in on the forecheck and he's hard to play against. He goes in and gets the puck a lot."

O'Reilly put a high backhander shot over the glove of Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak in the shootout after Hejduk and Matt Duchene were stopped.

Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 35 shots through 65 minutes, forced Alex Steen wide, stretched out his left pad to stop T.J. Oshie and Jamie Langenbrunner was wide with a backhander, giving Colorado its fourth win in as many shootouts this season and 15th in its last 17 tiebreakers.

"I did that move in junior," O'Reilly said of his shootout goal. "It was the first time I shot this year and I was just feeling it. I just wanted to go in with the right speed. If he gives me a low blocker shot, I'll take it. If not, go to the back-hand and try him there. It just worked out tonight."

The Avalanche came within an inch or two of winning the game with 17 seconds remaining in the five-minute overtime. Ryan O'Byrne took a shot that got past Halak -- the play was called a goal on the ice as Avalanche players celebrated. But video replays showed Halak had reached back and gloved the puck before it completely crossed the goal line, so the call was reversed, setting up the shootout.

"I was 100 percent sure that it didn't go in," said Halak, who made 33 saves. "They were celebrating, but too soon."

O'Byrne was able to joke about the near-miss after the game.

"(Teammate) Shane O'Brien just said it'll probably be on SportsCenter  showing us coming out and celebrating and looking up (at the video boards) and saying, ‘Oh, maybe not,' " O'Byrne said. "But I thought it was a gutsy effort for the comeback by the team. That's a good defensive team, and it's a good win for us."

Varlamov, who has allowed two goals or fewer in five consecutive starts, made two key saves against Blues center David Backes as time was winding down in regulation and stopped the last 21 shots he faced after Patrik Berglund snapped a 1-1 tie at 5:39 of the second period.

"It's all about the team," Varlamov said. "The team played well and that's helped me a lot. We're playing much better defensively right now and we're scoring some more goals. I feel good about the way the team is playing right now, not about myself."

The Avalanche tied the game 2-2 on O'Reilly's goal at 9:34 of the third period. O'Reilly, who had five shots on goal, took a pass from O'Byrne and scored from the right circle with Hejduk setting up in front of Halak.

"I was just trying to find a hole," O'Reilly said. "The puck came to me and I just let it go. Our guys did a great job in front creating traffic so (Halak) couldn't see it and I got a good bounce."

Halak made a number of big stops among his 11 saves in the second period. He gloved Duchene's shot from the slot after Paul Stastny stole the puck in the corner and did the same to David Jones off a feed from Duchene.

The Blues had won all 11 of their previous games when leading after two periods.

"I think we just sat back a little bit and took some pressure off of them," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored a power-play goal against his former team at 8:55 of the first period to open the scoring. "They got their transition game going and some ice to work with. They are a skilled team. They make great plays through the neutral zone and I think us backing off was playing right into their hands."

Colorado's power play was ranked third in the NHL before the game but has gone ice cold. The Avalanche went 0-for-4 Friday and is in a 3-for-33 slump over a 10-game stretch.
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