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Avs move into first-place tie

by Brian Compton
The Colorado Avalanche moved into a first-place tie in the Northwest Division with a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.
No Joe Sakic? No Ryan Smyth?
No problem.
Cody McCormick and Andrew Brunette scored in a 94-second span in the third period, and Peter Budaj (21 saves) outplayed Roberto Luongo as the Colorado Avalanche moved into a first-place tie with Sunday night’s 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks at the Pepsi Center.
Missing arguably their two best players – Smyth and Sakic -- the Avs improved to 5-0-1 in their last six games.

“I think no matter who’s out on the ice, they’ve been contributing,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think they’re aware of the team game that’s been strong as we’ve progressed here. When you’ve got some momentum like this, everybody’s delivering it. We don’t seem to lose it through the course of the game.”

McCormick, who was called up from AHL Lake Erie on Nov. 13, broke a 1-1 tie at the 10:50 mark of the third period ( 700K ). The scrappy forward made a nifty play as he stole the puck from Henrik Sedin before beating Luongo for his second goal of the season.

It was a special moment for McCormick, who was one of five players in the Avs’ lineup that started the season in the American Hockey League.

''I am becoming the hockey player I want to be,'' McCormick said. ''Joe Sakic has helped me to finding the right positioning. That will provide some offensive opportunities and it means more minutes.''

Luongo – who lost in regulation for the first time in three weeks – said he was screened on McCormick’s game-winning goal.

''There were a few guys right in front of me,'' said Luongo, who had 29 saves. ''I didn't see it until it was in. It was practically a perfect shot.''
Brunette helped the Avalanche inch closer to the first-place tie when he had all day in front of the net with the puck on his stick before mercifully beating Luongo on a backhand shot at 12:24 of the third ( 700K ). The tally – which came via the power play – was his sixth of the season.
“I almost made one too many moves,” Brunette said. “I had him down, and just kind of put it upstairs.”
Colorado’s Marek Svatos broke a scoreless tie 3:29 into the second period when he was able to knock home Jaroslav Hlinka’s rebound ( 700K ), but Taylor Pyatt quickly tied things up for the Canucks when he scored on the power play just three minutes later on a pretty backhand shot ( 700K ).
''We had a lot of chances in the second period,'' Henrik Sedin said. ''We've got to score more -- that's the bottom line.''
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault was pleased with his team’s effort – especially when you consider the Canucks were coming off a shootout victory at Phoenix on Saturday night.
''I thought our guys did everything they could,'' Vigneault said. ''We gave ourselves a chance; 1-1 going into the third and we had a couple of mistakes there. There was just not enough left in the tank for a team that was just waiting for us. This month of December has been one of the most challenging I've ever been a part of -- seven games in 11 nights.''
It’s been just as challenging for the Avalanche to find ways to win victories with a lineup missing the likes of Sakic and Smyth. Nonetheless, Colorado enters the holiday break deadlocked with the Canucks atop the Northwest Division. They have depth to thank for that.
''We knew back in training camp the depth in the organization,'' Brunette said. ''They've come up in great shape and are playing like veterans. We need that now with all the energy.''

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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