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Bozak, Komarov power Maple Leafs past Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Tyler Bozak, who played at the University of Denver, enjoyed a happy homecoming Monday by scoring three third-period goals, and Jake Gardiner had four assists to help the Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Colorado Avalanche 7-4 at Pepsi Center.

Toronto (12-13-7) ended Colorado's winning streak at five games and is on a 4-0-2 roll. The Maple Leafs are 10-5-5 in 20 games after starting the season with two wins in 12 games under new coach Mike Babcock.

The Maple Leafs, who went 2-for-20 on the power play in the previous seven games, scored on all three man-advantage opportunities, making them 7-for-8 against the Avalanche in two games this season.

"I don't know why," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said of the power-play success against Colorado. "I'd like to have them on the schedule more. They've got a good penalty kill, and we just seem to have them.

"The first 10 minutes we didn't have much pop. We got going after that. We were real good on the power play, and our top six forwards were real good."

Goalie Jonathan Bernier had 24 saves for his second consecutive win after going 0-8-3 in his first 11 decisions.

The Avalanche (17-17-1) fell five points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

"We've grown over the last couple of weeks, and that's something we're going to bring with us into the Christmas break," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "This one, we'll definitely have to think about it and watch video and see what we can do better. We know we're a strong group in here; we're going to keep our heads high and get some rest."

The Maple Leafs went ahead 4-3 at 0:49 of the third period on Bozak's first goal. James van Riemsdyk passed to him skating into the Avalanche zone for a shot that hit goalie Semyon Varlamov's right pad and dribbled between his legs across the goal line.

Bozak scored again at 6:47 with a backhand on a breakaway after a giveaway by Blake Comeau, and van Riemsdyk deflected in Gardiner's point shot at 10:40.

Bozak completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal with 3:40 remaining in the game. Colorado's Jack Skille answered with his second goal of the game with 2:29 to go.

"I had a couple buddies here, so I thought they might have thrown (some hats) out there, but that's OK," Bozak said. "They might not have been close enough to the ice. But I didn't expects hats there."

Erik Johnson tied the game 3-3 for the Avalanche at 18:43 of the second period on a power play with Matt Hunwick off for slashing Nathan MacKinnon. After Colorado went without a shot on each of its first two power plays, Landeskog slid the puck across to Johnson in the left circle for a one-timer behind Bernier.

"We were happy we were tied going into the third on the road," Bozak said. "We had some good plays and some lucky bounces."

The Maple Leafs grabbed a 3-2 lead at 12:03 of the second period on Leo Komarov's second goal of the game. Peter Holland took a shot from the right point, and Komarov deflected it past Varlamov for his 15th goal.

"He is really hot right now, so anytime he is open, get him the puck and you are probably going to get some points," Gardiner said.

Komarov has five goals and two assists in a four-game point streak. "He's definitely in the zone right now," Bozak said. "He's confident, and whenever you're confident, you play your best. He's doing everything for us, and it's fun to watch and fun to see, and we're very happy for him."

Varlamov, who was named the NHL's First Star for the week ending Dec. 20, hadn't allowed more than two goals in any of his previous eight games. He made 15 saves Monday.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said Varlamov looked worn out but that backup Reto Berra wasn't available because he injured his ankle playing soccer before the game and will have an MRI on Tuesday. Colorado also lost defenseman Nate Guenin to what Roy said is a probable concussion in the second period.

"I saw that Varly was tired. He had a great run, he played hard for us," Roy said. "I thought I might as well stay with Varly. It's too bad because Varly played so well and the team had such a good run.

"After the first 10 minutes, it seemed like our focus was gone and we just had a hard time to get back in that game. It just wasn't there for us."

The Avalanche tied the game 2-2 at 1:07 of the second period on a goal by John Mitchell shortly after Bernier robbed Landeskog in front.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead in the first period on power-play goals from Komarov and Joffrey Lupul 4:08 apart.

Colorado opened the scoring on Skille's first goal at 2:27. Skille was alone in front and had time to tee up the puck before shooting.

The Maple Leafs tied the score 1-1 at 13:34 with Colorado's Francois Beauchemin serving a tripping penalty. Komarov used Holland as a screen and beat Varlamov from low in the right circle.

They went ahead at 17:42 after Comeau went to the box for hooking. Gardiner set up Lupul in the slot for his first goal in four games since returning from a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for five games.

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