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Benoit scores in OT to lift Avalanche past Red Wings

by Brian Hedger

DETROIT -- The rivalry has fizzled since it peaked in the late 1990s, but it seemed oddly fitting to watch the Colorado Avalanche spoil the Detroit Red Wings' party on the night Nicklas Lidstrom's No. 5 was lifted to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena.

The Avalanche beat the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime Thursday following a 70-minute pregame ceremony honoring the seven-time Norris Trophy winner.

Andre Benoit ended it 4:28 into overtime with his fourth goal, which he roofed over Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard from the bottom of the left circle to send Red Wings fans home a little sour.

"I'm really proud of this team," said Avalanche first-year coach Patrick Roy, who experienced the bitterness of the teams’ rivalry for eight seasons as Colorado's goalie. "We didn't have a good first period. We missed a few plays, but I'm going to give [the Red Wings] credit, because they played hard. After two periods we had only one scoring chance, and in order to keep us at only one scoring chance, the other team has to play hard and well, and that's what they did."

There was no question in Roy's mind what motivated the opposition on this night.

"I think they wanted to win this game for Lidstrom and I thought they did a lot of good things out there," he said. "We found a way to win this hockey game and we [stuck] to it and gave ourselves a chance to win it."

The Avalanche did just enough good things as it turned out, including a perfect passout by rookie Nathan MacKinnon that set up Benoit for the game-winner. After getting the puck from Erik Johnson behind the net, MacKinnon threaded a tape-to-tape pass between a defender and Howard's left pad to Benoit for the open shot.

It was MacKinnon's 13th straight game with at least one point, breaking Wayne Gretzky's NHL record for consecutive games with a point by an 18-year-old.

“[Johnson] kind of threw it at the net," he said. "Nobody really took me, and Benoit took the back door. [The record's] pretty cool. I want to be as consistent as possible. [Gretzky] probably doubled my point total in those games."

PA Parenteau scored to tie it 2-2 early in the third period with his 13th goal, and Matt Duchene had a goal and assist for the Avalanche (41-17-5), who have won four straight games.

Niklas Kronwall and Tomas Jurco scored for Detroit (28-21-12), which picked up an important point despite the disappointing defeat. Detroit is locked in a logjam of Eastern Conference teams vying for two wild-card spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the single point kept the Red Wings in the second spot with 69 points.

"I thought we did a lot of great things tonight," said Howard, who made 22 saves. "It's important to remember that we still got a point. [It] keeps us in the race here. It doesn't matter, every single night we gotta find a way to get points."

The game was the Red Wings debut for veteran center David Legwand, who's from the Detroit area and was brought back to his hometown Wednesday in a trade with the Nashville Predators. Legwand had no points, was minus-2 and won 37 percent of the 19 draws he took.

Much of the game held a Lidstrom backdrop, as No. 5 was painted in red behind each net and occupied each of the rink's four corners -- not to mention the newest banner hanging high above the ice.

Fittingly, on Lidstrom's big night, the game's first goal was generated by three fellow Swedes, including two members of the defense corps Lidstrom anchored for 20 seasons. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and center Joakim Andersson assisted on Kronwall's seventh goal at 12:33 of the first period to put Detroit ahead 1-0.

It felt like it was destiny for it to happen that way, and the goal highlighted a strong first period for Detroit, which came out looking a lot like the teams Lidstrom captained. The Red Wings outshot the Avalanche 13-8 and kept the puck in the offensive zone for extended stretches, making Jean-Sebastien Giguere work to keep it a 1-0 game at the first intermission.

"I thought we played good," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We’ve just got to keep playing like that. Since the [2014 Sochi Olympic] break we played three of our four games really well, and the other game went right down to the wire. Let's bottle it and do it again Friday night [against the New Jersey Devils]."

Oddly enough, the game's second goal also brought back memories of Lidstrom, even though it was Duchene scoring for Colorado to knot the game at 1-1.

The scoring chance was keyed by the lively boards at the tunnel end of the rink. Lidstrom often utilized those boards for set-up passes to teammates around the net. The only difference Thursday was that Johnson didn't do it intentionally in setting up Duchene’s 20th goal.

Johnson’s shot deflected off Kronwall's skate, hit the boards and bounced right out front to Duchene, who caught just enough of the puck to send the puck into the net off Johan Franzen's skate at 10:11 of the second period.

The game's Lidstrom theme didn't end there.

Detroit moved back ahead 2-1 on Jurco's power-play goal 1:59 after Duchene had tied it. Fellow rookie Riley Sheahan, who centers Detroit's "Kid" line between Jurco and Tomas Tatar, hustled to collect a loose puck and fed his linemate a perfect pass. Jurco buried it for the fifth goal of his NHL career, a day after Lidstrom told reporters the "Kid" line had become one of his favorite groups to watch back home in Sweden.

"We dumped it in on the power play, and it was kind of a weird bounce," Jurco said. "I tried to follow the puck, and it bounced right on Sheahan’s stick. He put it on my stick and I put it in."

Credited with the secondary assist on the goal was defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who grew up near Detroit with Lidstrom as his favorite player and who was recruited by Lidstrom to sign with Detroit as a coveted collegiate free agent from Western Michigan University.

DeKeyser, however, was beaten on the next goal. Parenteau boxed him out in front of the crease and tied it 2-2 by backhanding a shot over Howard's right pad 5:49 into the third.

"We didn't play a bad game by any means," Duchene said. "They definitely carried a lot of play. I thought when we got that second goal, we took a lot of wind out of their sails, and I felt like it was our game to take over at that point and that we did a good job of that."

Each side had its chances in OT, including power plays for each team.

The game appeared headed for a shootout until MacKinnon got the puck behind the net off a pass from Johnson, who finished with two assists. The rest is now history, just like Lidstrom's number.

The Avalanche will go for a fifth straight win Saturday when they host the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues. They have their sights set on surpassing the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks down the stretch for the division title and then chasing after the Stanley Cup.

"We're not the old Avs anymore," Duchene said. "We're not that team we've been the last four years that tries not to lose. We're the team that tries to win and always goes for it no matter what. It's so fun right now."

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