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Avalanche send Stars to fourth straight loss

by Rick Sadowski /

DENVER -- For the Colorado Avalanche, it's beginning to feel a lot like last season when no deficit seemed too large.

The Avalanche defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 at Pepsi Center on Saturday for their fifth win in the past six games. Colorado trailed 2-0 in the first period.

Goalie Semyon Varlamov made 37 saves, Matt Duchene ended a slump with a goal and an assist, and the Avalanche (18-16-8) killed six Stars power plays.

"We stayed with it, it didn't really faze us," said Duchene, who gave the Avalanche a 4-2 lead 12 seconds into the third period with his first goal since Dec. 11 against the Winnipeg Jets. "We kept going and [Varlamov] played great for us. He played a great game and we had a lot of guys who stepped up."

Duchene, who had gone 12 games without a goal, came from behind the net while being checked by Stars defenseman David Schlemko. Duchene spun around in the left circle and shot the puck over goalie Kari Lehtonen's glove.

"Obviously I've been missing a lot lately, a lot of crossbars, a lot of posts, so it was nice to get that one to go in," Duchene said. "Borna [Rendulic] made a great forecheck and he turned the puck over for us. He dumped it to me on the wall. That's the kind of play I like to do. I watched Peter Forsberg do it all the time. I picked that up years ago. It was good timing for that one.

"I was pretty happy. Scoring goals is the best feeling in the world. I was pretty excited. I didn't really get too down on myself. I just stayed with it believing something would go. It was nice to get one like that, too, where you shoot and pick a corner rather than just banging one in."

The Avalanche blocked 26 shots, and Erik Johnson, who was named to the NHL All-Star Game, led the way with six. Nate Guenin blocked five shots and Brad Stuart four.

Varlamov has allowed five goals in the past three games, all wins, facing 132 shots.

"They had a lot of shots (nine) on their power play," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "This is a team that moves the puck very well. You have to have more [shots] when you're pulling the goalie; you're going to get some shots. But I thought we were a lot better in front of him. The quality of the shots and scoring chances, I thought we did a good job."

The Stars (18-16-7) pulled within 4-3 when Ales Hemsky converted Jason Spezza's drop pass at 2:38 of the third period. They had three more power plays, including a 6-on-4 advantage for the final 18 seconds.

The Avalanche are 10-0-0 when scoring four or more non-shootout goals and are 9-3-2 in their past 14 games. At 44 points, Colorado moved one ahead of Dallas in a race for the second wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

Dallas, which scored on two of its first three shots, has lost four games in a row (0-2-2).

"We played well enough and hard enough to win," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We made a couple of big mistakes."

The Avalanche scored three goals in the second period to take a 3-2 lead with Nathan MacKinnon breaking a 2-2 tie with 8.4 seconds remaining.

Avalanche forward Maxime Talbot intercepted defenseman John Klingberg's attempted clear and passed to MacKinnon, who skated down the middle. He took a shot from in close and the puck appeared to roll under goalie Lehtonen's left pad and across the goal line. Video review was inconclusive in determining whether the puck completely crossed the line, therefore the referee's call that it was a goal stood.

"The call on the ice really helped it count," MacKinnon said. "I’ll definitely take it. I thought I got it past him, but I wasn’t sure 100 percent."

Johnson and John Mitchell also had goals in the second. Johnson scored his career-high 12th at 7:18. He skated from the right corner into the circle and put a backhand through traffic inside the near post. Mitchell's shot from the blue line found its way through several bodies at 8:43.

The Avalanche killed three Stars power plays in the period, including a 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 33 seconds. The Stars are 0-for-14 in their past four games.

"It’s got to make a difference for us in these hockey games and it isn’t right now,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "We got the start that we wanted and we kind of laid an egg in the second period, which we obviously can’t do against a good team like that. Their goalie played a good game. Their team played a pretty good game as well."

Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda spent 5:54 killing penalties.

"For me, killing a penalty is like scoring a goal," he said. "I'm even more focused on what I need to do when I'm killing a penalty. I take it very seriously."

The Stars scored on two of their first three shots to take a 2-0 lead. Dallas forward Tyler Seguin spun around above the left hash marks for a shot that Brett Ritchie knocked in 27 seconds after the opening faceoff.

Stars forward Colton Sceviour put a backhand behind Varlamov at 9:24 from the slot after Vernon Fiddler kept an Avalanche clearing attempt from exiting the zone.

"We have to find a way to play a solid 60 minutes, especially when we’re halfway done with the year now," Benn said. "There’s only going to be tight games from here on in, so we have to find a way to play a full 60 minutes and win those one-goal games. I think we all know where we’re sitting right now. We’re five points out of the playoffs or whatever it is, but we have to find a way to turn it up to that next level as a team and really make a strong push for the rest of the year.”

Fiddler left the game because of a lower-body injury and did not return.

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