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Better vibe around Avs following Saturday's victory

by Rick Sadowski
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Avalanche players had a little more jump than usual during practice Monday, 36 hours after posting their first win in 3 1/2 weeks, one that snapped a winless streak that reached 10 games.

"I think just getting that first win, now the guys can breathe again," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said following the workout here at South Suburban Family Sports Center. "You could even tell today at practice, as much as we've been trying to keep positive, you can tell the guys -- I don't want to use the word loose -- but they certainly had a little more energy out there."

The Avalanche were in an 0-9-1 rut before Saturday's 3-2 shootout win in Edmonton, where rookie Ryan Stoa scored in the fourth round for the lone shootout goal and goalie Brian Elliott stopped 31 of 33 shots through regulation and overtime.

"When you win the game is more fun. When you have a stretch like we had, it can wear on you. It's one of those things where the more it goes on, the more it's in your head. You almost have to get out of your own way sometimes."
-- John-Michael Liles

"It's nice to win," Sacco said. "That's what this League is all about. It's been a difficult time, no question, but I thought the guys deserved that win."

The victory was a long time coming for Elliott, whose previous win also came at the Oilers' expense, a 5-3 decision Feb. 12 in Edmonton when he was playing for Ottawa. Elliott had gone 0-5-1 with the Avalanche since his Feb. 18 acquisition from the Senators in exchange for goalie Craig Anderson.

"We came out and got a gutsy win," Elliott said. "They had our number the past couple of games and we wanted to return the favor for beating us at home."

Elliott, who will start Tuesday against Columbus at the Pepsi Center, was in net for the two previous losses to the Oilers.

"(The win) is huge for everybody," he said. "We've been working hard every game. I think every guy has said, 'I can give more,' but it's awesome to finally get a reward, that hard work pays off. We just have to keep that winning feeling and the same emotions and the same intensity."

The Avalanche hadn't won since a 4-3 victory in St. Louis on Feb. 22 and had gone 1-18-2 since a 4-3 victory against the Blues on Jan. 24 at the Pepsi Center. Colorado has since gone 0-7-1 on home ice.

"We obviously have to play better at home," forward David Jones said. "Our last few starts here, we've played really poorly. We have to come out with a better effort. Hopefully we can build on (Saturday's) win. We were searching for that win for a while and it feels good. It seemed like no matter what we did, we couldn't get a break. Now everybody feels a little better about themselves."

Considering the Avalanche's troubles for the past two months, and the fact the team will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, no one was popping champagne bottles after ending the losing streak.

The Avalanche are 29th in the NHL standings with 62 points and 11 games to play.

"(The win) made for a more enjoyable flight back (home), but given where we are I don't know that it was much of a celebration," defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "But you kind of take that little bit of weight off your chest and just get back to playing the game you know how to play. For a while there, it almost feels like you don't know how to play it.

"When you win the game is more fun. When you have a stretch like we had, it can wear on you. It's one of those things where the more it goes on, the more it's in your head. You almost have to get out of your own way sometimes."

Stefan Elliott signs -- The Avalanche on Monday signed 6-foot-1, 192-pound defenseman Stefan Elliott to an entry-level contract. Elliott, 20, was Colorado’s second-round pick (No. 49) in the 2009 Entry Draft.

Elliott will remain with the Saskatoon Blades, who finished with the Western Hockey League's best record (56-13-1-2) and open playoff action Saturday against Prince Albert. Elliott led all WHL defensemen with 31 goals and tied for first with 81 points in 71 games. He also led the league with a plus-62 rating.

Elliott is the highest-scoring defenseman in Blades franchise history, with 241 points (82 goals, 159 assists) in 282 games.

"He's had an amazing year in junior, looking at his numbers and his team's record," Sacco said. "I hope he does well in the playoffs, and it looks like his team has a strong chance to move along and do some damage. I'm looking forward to seeing him compete next year at training camp."
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