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Avalanche use late rally to defeat Devils

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Matt Duchene knows nothing has come easy for the Colorado Avalanche this season.

But it's funny what a few breaks and some timely goals will do for team morale.

The Avalanche closed out a four-game road trip on Saturday with a pair of late goals in the third period for a come-from-behind 3-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

Duchene scored his sixth of the season with 2:53 remaining to snap a 2-2 tie and give the Avalanche their second straight victory after a 6-0 loss to the New York Islanders four days earlier.

"Danny Briere started the whole thing [on the game-winner]; he extended his shift and was probably tired but went 1-on-3 against their guys, got the puck deep and was able to maintain it," Duchene said. "We came in and were able to force a turnover and keep the pressure on until they broke down. I was just Johnny-on-the-spot."

The win might have been just the third in eight games (3-4-1) for the Avalanche, but the swagger and confidence that was so evident last season seems to be creeping back.

"We've had to will our way through this," Duchene said. "It hasn't come easy, not for one second. Last year if we played liked we played against the New York Rangers on Thursday [a 4-3 shootout victory] we'd score five or six goals and we win easily in regulation.

"This year it's just not coming as easy for us but these are the types of wins that create those to come back. We're pushing hard and working and we'll get through this because we're a strong character team."

Colorado had to survive a late New Jersey power play after defenseman Jan Hejda was whistled for slashing with 2:34 remaining. The Devils pulled goalie Cory Schneider with 50 seconds remaining to make it a 6-on-4 advantage but could not set up for a good opportunity for the equalizer.

John Mitchell and Erik Johnson also scored for the Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov, who was making his third straight start, stopped 23 shots. Eric Gelinas and Martin Havlat scored for the Devils. Schneider, who was making his 18th straight start to begin the season, made 26 saves.

Johnson pulled the Avalanche into a 2-2 tie with 7:30 remaining in the third when he skated hard into the Devils end and took a wide-angle shot from low in the right circle that somehow got between Schneider's left pad and the post.

"I like to think the game is fair and honest and if you play the right way for the length of time we did you'll get a bounce," Johnson said. "That was one you shoot on net and hope for a rebound. It trickled through. We've been emphasizing lately on shooting pucks; we've been a little too fancy on the perimeter on this road trip so just shoot and see what happens."

Johnson, who has played extremely well for the Avalanche this season, logged a game-high 30:25 of ice time on 36 shifts, was credited with two shots on goal, blocked a shot and finished with a plus-2 rating.

"EJ has been outstanding for us and he's been one of our better players all year," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "Sometimes you puck the puck on net and good things happen and fortunate for us something good happen."

Schneider, who entered the game having allowed just one goal in back-to-back wins, took the blame for the Johnson goal that seemed to deflate any momentum the Devils had.

"I've [stopped] that move a hundred times and that one squeaks in; just a mistake by me," he said.

Devils forward Mike Cammalleri fell far short of blaming his teammate for the loss.

"[Schneider] has been great," Cammalleri said. "He bailed me out, he bailed a lot of guys out. We win and lose as a group.

"I think it felt like one we should have won 2-1," Cammalleri said. "We were kind of doing things the way we wanted to. As a group we were looking like we were going to find a way to win so it wasn't a good result.

Devils coach Pete DeBoer was asked if now might be a good time to give Schneider a rest after playing so many games to begin the season.

"No, I thought he was excellent again," DeBoer said. "He let in two goals. We have to score more. It would have been nice to give him a little bit of support. We didn't do that. I thought he was good. I didn't think fatigue was an issue; he looked good all night."

Gelinas scored his second goal of the season from a tough angle along the left-wing boards at 8:21 of the third to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.

"We were pretty disappointed when that one went in from Gelinas; it seems like those are the types of things that have gone against us this year," Duchene said. "But we stayed with it and [Johnson] came up with a big play. He's one of our big leaders back there and made an outstanding play to score that goal."

Despite the disappointment of allowing the go-ahead goal, the Avalanche remained confident.

"Everybody was upbeat and positive," forward Alex Tanguay said. "We felt like we were skating well. They're a stingy team and don't give you a lot. We got our break in the corner on Erik's goal. I don't know how it got in but we'll take it. We just kept plugging away."

The Devils took a 1-0 lead when Havlat scored his first goal in six games at 2:04 of the first period, firing home a shot from the slot off a big rebound. Michael Ryder took the initial shot from the right circle and Varlamov kicked the rebound directly to Havlat between the circles.

The Avalanche pulled even when Mitchell scored his third of the season at 8:11. Gabriel Landeskog made the play happen when he drew both Devils defensemen to him low in the right circle before feeding Mitchell.

The Devils, who had their two-game winning streak snapped, embark on a four-game road trip beginning Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets. The Avalanche go home after splitting their four-game trip, host the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

"You have points within your grasp and you don't get them," DeBoer said. "Every team in the League, every team I've coached, goes through something like this at some point over 82 games. The key is to learn from it. It's a learning experience game for us … how to play with a lead and lock that down. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again."

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