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Avalanche top Oilers, inch closer to Central lead

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- After being whistled for a costly penalty, Erik Johnson took it upon himself to help pull the Colorado Avalanche within two points of the top spot in the Central Division.

Johnson scored the game-winner on an impressive individual rush that put the Avalanche ahead to stay en route to a 4-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night at Rexall Place. The goal came 12 seconds after the Oilers had tied the game while Johnson sat in the penalty box serving an interference penalty.

"When [Johnson] has [the puck] like that, you don't usually see him try to go through everyone," Avalanche center Paul Stastny said. "But maybe after they scored, he wanted a quick response. He's got the speed and when he glides out there, he uses his edges well. He's got great hands, and probably the best part about the goal was the quick shot after that. He probably surprised the goalie."

Stastny, Tyson Barrie and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Avalanche, and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 22 saves to earn the win in what may have been the final start of his career. Giguere has hinted he will retire at the end of the season.

Colorado is two points behind the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Central Division and four points ahead of the third-place Chicago Blackhawks.

David Perron scored for the Oilers, whose two-game win streak was snapped. Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens stopped 29 shots.

"We played a really sound game, we played really well," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I thought we were sharp in the three zones. We played well in our zone, we played well offensively, and I thought we forechecked well in the neutral zone. We didn't give them much. It's the way we've been playing on the road lately. For some reason we're playing really well.

"We have a team record for wins on the road, and our players deserve credit for that. They're playing hard every night, and every day they come on the ice and they're ready to play. It makes me extremely proud of them."

Stastny opened the scoring 4:13 into the first period, getting to a loose puck at the side of the net and whacking away until it slid under Scrivens' pad.

The Oilers tied the game at 16:58 on the power play with Perron's team-leading 28th goal. The Oilers right wing, who entered the game tied for the team lead in goals with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, banked a centering pass in off Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden's skate and past Giguere.

The Avalanche regained the lead when Johnson made up for the penalty that had resulted in Perron's power-play goal. Johnson took on four Oilers at the blue line, then danced around Edmonton defenseman Jeff Petry and fired the puck through Scrivens.

"It was right after they scored a power-play goal, the first shift after," Johnson said. "I just wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that we got the puck in deep. I had some speed and made a move, and it was fun to make a play like that and score a goal like that at this level.

"I had a ton of room to skate. I don't usually try and dangle the defenseman at the blue line, but I made a move and it worked and I was able to score off a quick shot, five-hole. We controlled the pace of the game the entire game after that goal, I thought."

Johnson's goal proved to be a backbreaker for the Oilers, who had beaten the Avalanche 8-2 on Dec. 5 in their most recent meeting at Rexall Place .

"It's hard when they get a goal back on you so quickly," Perron said. "We've played some good hockey here of late and we need to focus on that and keep going for the final two games. We are going to see games like last game (a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks) and ones like this where we had chances but we weren't executing. There are a few pucks I would like to have back tonight myself."

Barrie scored a power-play goal at 7:34 of the third period to increase Colorado's lead to 3-1. McGinn then beat Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a rebound in front at 16:19 to put the Avalanche up by three.

"It was perplexing to say the least," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said of his team's performance. "The last couple of games, on the road trip and the games against [the] Phoenix [Coyotes] and Anaheim, we were dialed in, each and every guy.

"Tonight, we couldn't get our legs, we couldn't get in the rhythm of the game. We couldn't make two passes in a row. Our execution was just terrible for whatever reason. It happens, but it usually just happens where three or four guys are having trouble. Tonight, it snowballed quickly."

The Oilers have two games left, having failed to qualify for the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. They'll host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday before closing out the season Saturday at home against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It was a small step backwards tonight," Petry said. "We weren't sharp from the beginning of the game on. We weren't making tape-to-tape passes or catching passes. We were just a little bit off."

Colorado continues its season-ending four-game road trip against the Canucks on Thursday. The Avalanche play the San Jose Sharks on Friday before concluding the regular season Sunday against the Ducks.

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