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Avalanche rally, beat Jets in shootout

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets had no answer for Matt Duchene on Thursday night.

Duchene scored twice in regulation to rally the Colorado Avalanche from an early two-goal deficit, then scored the deciding goal in the shootout to beat the Jets 4-3 at MTS Centre.

Duchene scored in the first round of the shootout and PA Parenteau ended the game by snapping a shot past Ondrej Pavelec in the second round. Semyon Varlamov stopped both Winnipeg attempts.

The win moved the Avalanche (21-9-0), who had lost two in a row and three of their past four, nine points ahead of the Jets in the Central Division. Despite their recent struggles, the third-place Avalanche have 21 wins in their first 30 games, matching a franchise record set twice before.

"We regrouped, we stayed focused and our guys kept playing as a team," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said of his team's early 2-0 hole. "That is the dangerous part of [an early deficit], because sometimes when you get behind, you have the tendency to [play] individually. That's not what we did tonight -- we stuck to the plan, we stuck together, played as a team and I think we just [came] back."

The Jets (14-14-5) have one win in their past four games and are last in the Central Division at 33 points -- they have the same number of points as the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators but have played more games than either of those teams. A 3-10-3 record against Central Division opponents has hampered the Jets' ability to assert themselves in their new home in the Western Conference. A visit from the Stars on Saturday concludes a crucial three-game homestand for the Jets, who are beginning to fade from the Western Conference playoff picture.

"It's a tough point to lose," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I don't know that we deserved to win, but we could have won. I think that what it shows is that winning in the National Hockey League is not an easy process, and it's difficult to change the way that things function."

"Right now, we are a [nearly] .500 hockey team, and .500 isn't good enough," Noel said. "It's not going to cut it, and it hasn't cut in the past. This year in the [Western Conference], it's not even close."

Duchene also assisted on a goal by Ryan O'Reilly to help the Avalanche overcome a 2-0 deficit. Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler had his first two-goal game since March 19, 2013, and Michael Frolik scored the other goal for the Jets, who went 2-for-6 on the power play.

Wheeler scored a power-play goal halfway through the third period to send the game past regulation, but the shootout victory improved Colorado's record when leading after two periods to 18-0-0.

"It makes it that much sweeter," Duchene said of the comeback. "They came out flying. It shows what a resilient and mature group we have to stick with it."

Varlamov stopped 35 shots through 65 minutes. Pavelec started for the fifth time in six games for the Jets and made 23 saves.

Colorado is 17-0-0 this season when scoring first, but the Jets carried the first period, building a 2-0 lead and taking a 12-2 shots advantage by the period's midpoint. Wheeler and Frolik gave the Jets a 2-0 advantage in the first 5:45 as the Jets recorded seven of the game's first eight shots.

But Duchene made it 2-1 at 15:08, ending a seven-game stretch without a goal, with his 13th of the season .

"I really only started feeling good two or three games ago, so it was nice to put a couple in," said Duchene, who had missed three games with an oblique injury before beginning his seven-game skid.

While Winnipeg outshot the Avalanche14-4 in the first period, and the Avalanche had managed six shots through the opening 30 minutes, they awakened in the second period. O'Reilly tied the game at 14:47 with his 10th goal, and Duchene put Colorado ahead for the first time when he scored his 14th goal at 19:57. It was his third three-point night of the season.

Wheeler's tying goal came with two seconds left on a penalty to Colorado defenseman Cory Sarich.

Another loss undid the positive feelings that a Winnipeg team in need of positives had generated early. The Jets went ahead on their second shot of the game when Wheeler spun and directed a shot from the bottom of the right circle that deflected off a skate and trickled past Varlamov 24 seconds into the game. The goal was his third in a span of 19 games dating to Oct. 29.

Back-to-back minor penalties to Colorado defensemen Erik Johnson and Nate Guenin put Colorado two men down. Colorado killed off Johnson's minor, but Jets rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba fired a low, hard shot from the point that Frolik tipped past Varlamov at 5:45 for his eighth of the season.

"Anybody would like to start the way we started," Noel said. "We got the building involved, the fans involved. A lot of the game started to shift for me in the second period."

But a center-ice collision between Wheeler and Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon set up the Avalanche's first goal. Duchene, one of the NHL's best skaters, scooped up the loose puck at the Winnipeg blue line and outraced Dustin Byfuglien before he tucked the puck past Pavelec.

Duchene and O'Reilly combined on the Avalanche's second goal after several minutes of sustained offensive pressure. Duchene circled behind the Winnipeg net and slipped a pass to O'Reilly, who lifted a shot from the left of the net over Pavelec's left shoulder.

"It's the momentum that you've got to recognize, how you control it," Noel said. "But we didn't recognize the momentum, and you could clearly see it, you could feel it probably in the whole building. You could see they were generating some [opportunities]."

Duchene put the Avalanche ahead when a Winnipeg turnover in the Colorado zone set up a transition rush for the Avalanche. MacKinnon sped past Wheeler down the left boards and put a shot on Pavelec; Duchene stuffed the rebound into the net for his second goal of the game.

"We've been taking positives out of losses for too long," Wheeler said. "It feels like three years, you come in after a game like this, and you say, 'We did some good things.' You have to stay positive and draw from the positives from the game, because we did a lot of good things, but we didn't do enough to win the game, and that's the bottom line."

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