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Avs clinch playoff berth with win and Flames' loss

by John Kreiser
Matt Duchene is a big reason the Colorado Avalanche is one of the NHL's most improved teams this season. On Tuesday night, the Avs' first-round pick in last June's Entry Draft shot them right into the playoffs.

Duchene scored in the third round of the shootout to give Colorado a 4-3 victory over Vancouver. The win, combined with Calgary's 2-1 home loss to San Jose, assured the Avs of a playoff berth and knocked the Flames out of the postseason for the first time since 2003.

Colorado was last in the West and 28th in the 30-team League in 2008-09. Duchene, selected third in the draft last June, and free-agent goaltender Craig Anderson helped the Avs get off to a fast start that enabled them to survive a late slump that saw them lose four in a row before back-to-back wins over San Jose and Vancouver.

Duchene, just 1-for-6 in shootouts, deked Roberto Luongo to the ice and lifted the puck just under the crossbar.

"I've done that move lots of times. I've used it in juniors," the NHL's top scorer among rookies said. "He's a great goalie. You've got to get him moving."

Coach Joe Sacco said it was appropriate that Duchene got the clincher.

"It's pretty fitting," the first-year coach said. "He's the kind of kid who wants the puck on his stick in those situations. He wants to make a difference."

Anderson also made a difference -- as he did all season, stopping 28 shots through 65 minutes and all three in the shootout.

The Avalanche then ended a four-game road skid by handing the Canucks their ninth home loss and eliminating the Calgary Flames, who lost to 2-1 San Jose earlier in the evening. The Avs rallied to beat the Sharks in OT on Sunday, ending a four-game slide that jeopardized their playoff hopes.

"Our goal all season was to make the playoffs and silence all the critics who said we were going to be 14th or 15th in the West," Duchene said. "To now clinch a playoff spot -- it feels amazing."

Daniel Sedin scored his second goal of the game on a power play with 4:06 left to tie it, taking a feed from twin brother Henrik on a 3-on-2 rush and snapping a far-side shot over the glove. It was the 107th point of the season for Henrik, who drew both defenders before dishing off on his backhand; he now leads Washington's Alex Ovechkin by one point.

Darcy Tucker opened the scoring 6:17 into the game after Canucks defenseman Alex Edler gave the puck away to him in the Vancouver end and compounded the mistake by screening Luongo on Tucker's low shot. Daniel Sedin tied it with 2:01 left after a strange bounce off the end boards stranded Anderson and left him with an empty net, but the Avalanche retook the lead 63 seconds later when Luongo misplayed T.J. Galiardi's backhander from the slot into his own net.

Mason Raymond tied it again on a 2-on-1 seven minutes into the second period, beating Anderson, who became the first goalie in franchise history to play 70 games.

Paul Stastny put the Avalanche ahead again on a 2-on-1 feed from Chris Stewart, who made a saucer pass over diving defenseman Shane O'Brien for his second assist of the game. Stastny, who also had an assist to match his career high with 78 points, deked around a sprawled Luongo before scoring his 20th of the season.

The Canucks rallied to force OT and the shootout, though they're locked into third place in the West.

"It was a hard-fought game cause those guys were desperate on the other side," Luongo said. "I thought we played good and it was a good battle on both sides but we weren't able to get that extra point."

Sharks 2, Flames 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

The chorus of boos and the tiny pocket of cheers at the Pengrowth Saddledome at the final buzzer said it all. The sellout crowd loudly made their feelings known as time expired, the Sharks celebrated another Pacific Division title and the Flames ended up preparing for an early summer.

"We all feel like we failed and we did fail," captain Jarome Iginla said after the Flames' 25th game of the season in which the team scored less than two goals. "First of all, our goal was to get to the playoffs. That's not an easy accomplishment. There are good teams that are out and are over .500."

The Sharks are assured of no worse than the second seed in the Western Conference when the Stanley Cup playoffs start next week. The Flames are out of the playoffs for the first time since 2003 due to a season-long problem -- the inability to put the puck in the net.

"We've been in too many 2-1 games. Those are the hardest where you think "just one shot". It's just one shot and we haven't found it this year in the close ones. This one stings a lot," Iginla said.

Evgeni Nabokov finished with 38 saves for the Sharks, making goals by Rob Blake and Jamie McGinn stand up.

"I think we owe this one to Nabby tonight," McGinn said. "He stood on his head."

San Jose got a power-play goal by Blake at 10:15 of the first period on a screened blast from the high slot to take a 1-0 lead. The Sharks got what proved to be the game-winner 5:47 into the second period when McGinn fished Logan Couture's rebound out of Miikka Kiprusoff's pads, stepped to his left and banged it into a wide-open net.

Calgary did little offensively against Nabokov through two periods. But with their season on the line, the Flames came out with a renewed sense of desperation in the third.

They got within 2-1 when Blake was called for delaying the game for shooting the puck into the crowd and Rene Bourque tipped Jay Bouwmeester's point shot behind Nabokov for his 26th of the season at 4:20.

The puck spent most of the rest of the night in the Sharks' zone, but Nabokov was unbeatable despite Calgary's 17-2 advantage in shots in the third period.

"I really thought we were going to come all the way back and win a close one," Iginla said. "We gave a big push there, we never quit and we thought we were going to get it right until the end and we had different chances and unfortunately, we didn't capitalize."

The win gave the Sharks 109 points, two more than the Chicago Blackhawks, who won 5-2 at Dallas. However, Chicago has a game in hand and would likely finish with more victories, giving the Hawks the top seed if the teams end up even in points.

"We had a very good first two periods and in the third we got what we expected from them, everything they could throw at us," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We spent some time in our zone but we were good around the net, didn't give them any second opportunities and when we did, Nabby did his thing."
The Sharks are 6-1-1 since a six-game winless skid temporarily dropped them to second place in the division behind Phoenix.

"That's exactly what we needed," said Nabokov, who's had his ups and downs since play resumed after the Winter Olympics. "I don't think we had one odd-man rush against us and we were pretty disciplined in terms of penalties. That's the type of game we need to play in the playoffs."

Material from team media and wire services was used in this report

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