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Avalanche top Ducks to keep playoff hopes alive

by Curtis Zupke /

ANAHEIM -- The Colorado Avalanche have talked about not giving up as long as they still are in contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They followed through on that Friday.

Matt Duchene scored on a breakaway at 9:08 of the third period to help Colorado stave off elimination with a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.

Duchene slipped the puck five-hole on Ducks goalie John Gibson with defenseman Sami Vatanen closing in after the puck had bounced to center ice off a blocked shot. The game-winner was Duchene's 21st goal.

The Avalanche (36-30-12), who would have been eliminated with a regulation loss, got an empty-net goal from Dennis Everberg with 1:24 left. They are six points behind the Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets in the race for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

"If we win out, you never know what can happen," Duchene said. "We're going to give ourselves the best opportunity possible, and even if we don't make it, we've got a lot of pride in here. We've got a lot of character. Whatever we do to finish it off here is going to lead into next season."

The Avalanche visit the Kings on Saturday. Colorado (84 points) has played one more game than Los Angeles and Winnipeg; it also trails the San Jose Sharks (87) and is even with the Dallas Stars.

Goalie Reto Berra made 35 saves and foiled Ryan Kesler twice on high-quality chances from the slot.

"Honestly, he's been playing really well lately," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said of Berra. "It's exactly the guy we made the trade for (at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline). I think he's starting to pay off for us. He's been playing some very good hockey."

The Ducks (50-23-7), who were coming off a Pacific Division-clinching win, tend to look out of sync without Ryan Getzlaf in the lineup, and that was again the case when Getzlaf rested Friday -- although Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said the Anaheim captain was banged up.

"It's a huge difference without him on the ice," Ducks forward Jiri Sekac said. "That's how I feel when there's not a top goal-scorer on their team, then you feel a little bit better. Maybe he could have changed something. It's a tough loss, but it doesn't change anything. We just have to keep going."

Anaheim gave the Avalanche three power plays in the second period, and Colorado's 29th-ranked man-advantage unit broke through with Gabriel Landeskog's 23rd goal to tie it 2-2.

Landeskog buried a shot high from the slot at 16:52 after Alex Tanguay collected the puck and set him up with Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski serving a holding penalty.

Kesler's 21:46 of ice time was his most since Feb. 23, largely because he played 3:55 with the Ducks shorthanded.

Anaheim went 0-for-3 on the power play and is in a 1-for-19 slump, an area of concern going into the postseason, much like last season.

"I think right now it would be meaningful for confidence," Boudreau said. "You'd certainly like to get the power play in gear. We're getting opportunities, but to get opportunities, you have to be able to take a beating in front of the net and win those battles in front of the net. It looks pretty, but we're not winning them."

Sekac and Rickard Rakell scored in the first period for Anaheim.

Sekac grabbed a Tanguay turnover in neutral ice, skated past Avalanche forward Marc-Andre Cliche and beat Berra with a quick backhand at 7:31. Corey Perry misdirected Berra from behind the net and flubbed a pass that Rakell scored on from the right side at 17:58.

John Mitchell scored for Colorado on a one-timer from Jarome Iginla on a rush at 6:33 of the first to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead.

Boudreau praised Colorado's urgency.

"They're not going to make it, but good teams have a lot of pride," Boudreau said. "You take away their first 20 games, and they're right up there where they should have been. They're not going to quit. They didn't quit tonight."

Anaheim right wing Stefan Noesen made his NHL debut. He drew a holding penalty against Iginla and nearly scored from the slot in the third period. Boudreau said he probably should have played Noesen more than 6:54, but Noesen wasn't complaining.

"I definitely had a little bit of jitters in the beginning," he said. "As the game went on, it's starts to be hockey and those feelings go away. It was a dream come true."

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