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Avs edge Blackhawks in shootout

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO – The Colorado Avalanche had just about everything stacked against them on Saturday night at the United Center.

Before the game, the Chicago Blackhawks honored Hall-of-Fame legends Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull with bronze statues outside the building – not too far away from the famous Michael Jordan statue that sits outside the main entrance.

The Avs then built a 3-1 lead in the second period and watched it melt away before then going down by a goal with just over five minutes left to play. The sold-out crowd at the "Madhouse on Madison" was going nuts, the Blackhawks sensed a chance to earn an improbable two points and nobody would've blamed the young Avs if they'd just folded up.

Instead, they capitalized on a Chicago turnover late in the third, got the second of two goals by rookie Gabriel Landeskog with 1:48 left in regulation and ultimately won it 5-4 in a shootout. Joakim Nordstrom, Colorado's third shooter, scored the lone goal of the shootout to help the Avs (6-2-0) improve to 6-0 on the road.

"We know what we have to do on the road to get the win," said the 18-year old Landeskog, who now has four goals and five points in just eight NHL games. "We just stuck to our game plan, kept on working hard and that's what makes us successful."

Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov made stops against Viktor Stalberg, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the shootout, while Corey Crawford stonewalled Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene for Chicago (4-1-2) before Nordstrom beat him with a nifty Mikita-worthy deke.

"Any time you can come into this building in Chicago and take two points on the road, it's certainly a big victory for our team," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "And the way we did it too … being down a goal late in the game and again showing some resiliency. It's impressive."

Trailing 4-3 late in the third, Colorado center Ryan O'Reilly got the puck after a Hawks turnover and found Landeskog – who skated in against Crawford and beat him from the low slot to the stick side to knot it 4-4.

Landeskog, the second pick at the 2011 Entry Draft, continues to impress. His goal with 6:35 left in the second gave Colorado the 3-1 lead that was eventually frittered away, but he and his linemates – O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik – were the subject of some post-game praise by Sacco.

It's Colorado's third line and so far it's providing a lot of energy – not to mention goals. O'Reilly now has seven assists on the season and Winnik had two goals before picking up an assist in this game.

"(Landeskog) just works hard and that line's been very good," Sacco said. "They really make some big plays when they need to … and defensively they're doing a heck of a job. Most of the time I'm matching them up against the other team's top line. That's not an easy task."

Neither is defeating Colorado in a shootout.

The Avs have now won 14 of their last 15 shootouts, and this time the winning score came off the stick of Nordstrom – a new face to the shootout lineup.

"We haven't had to use him before, that's why," Sacco said. "We've won with two shooters, but he has been in line at No.3. That was his first crack at it and he looked pretty good."

If it weren't for some outstanding saves by both Crawford (20 saves) and Varlamov (34 saves), the shootout wouldn't have been necessary. The same can be said for Chicago's carelessness with the puck, which Hawks coach Joel Quenneville blamed for all four Colorado goals.

Quenneville was clearly agitated following the game and didn't hide his disappointment with how his team played in front of Crawford.

"We gave them four goals," Quenneville said. "All four goals are Cardinal sins in how we defend and how we make plays. All the plays that we talk about daily in how we play, we played them all poorly. Every goal was directly our responsibility. We know how we have to play those situations. We can't serve them up like we did tonight."

On the other hand, the Hawks did show a good amount of resiliency themselves.

After Michael Frolik tied it 1-1 for Chicago 46 seconds into the second, Colorado's David Jones and Landeskog scored to put the Hawks in a 3-1 hole. That's when the Chicago comeback began, after a rousing ovation for Mikita and Hull with 4:50 left got the crowd fired up again.

Toews pounded home a rebound during a power play with just 55 seconds left in the second to make it 3-2 and Mayers tied it up 3-3 just 4:35 into the third – blasting a shot Varlamov stopped but getting lucky bounces on the rebound that went off both of Avs defenseman Ryan O'Byrne's skates into the net.

Marian Hossa then scored his fourth of the season with just 5:27 left to put the Hawks on top 4-3 and it seemed like a special night for the Windy City would be capped with a magical comeback win. Instead, Landeskog and the Avs spoiled the party.

Doing it on the night Hull and Mikita were honored made it even better for the visitors.

"They're huge legends, to say the least and two great personalities and great hockey players," Landeskog said. "It makes it a little bit more special, for sure, but we just tried to look at it as a regular hockey game and play our game."
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