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Colorado Avalanche 2, Montr?al Canadiens 4 FINAL @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL (AP) _ The Montreal Canadiens are beating some tough competition as they move closer to returning to the playoffs.

Saku Koivu scored a power-play goal 4:18 into the third period, and Jose Theodore made 29 saves to lead Montreal to a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

The Canadiens, who missed the playoffs last season for the fourth time in five years, tied New Jersey for sixth overall in the Eastern Conference with 87 points. They have a 15-point lead over ninth-place Buffalo, which has 10 games left.

``It was another big test for our team,'' Koivu said. ``We've gained some confidence by playing teams that are above us and we've been successful. We're taking small steps but we're gaining some ground and some confidence.''

Koivu, who assisted on Yanic Perreault's first-period goal to extend his point streak to six games, broke a 2-2 tie with a backhander past goalie David Aebischer. Koivu's 14th goal helped the Canadiens pull out a win after they squandered an early two-goal lead.

Mike Ribeiro scored into an empty net with 49 seconds remaining.

``They came back to make it 2-2 and we're finding the way to win some games now,'' Ribeiro said. ``We played a good game.''

Rookie forward Michael Ryder also scored for the Canadiens, who won their second straight. Montreal, which beat Toronto 4-3 on Saturday, has lost just once in regulation in 12 games (10-1-0-1).

``The last 10 days or two weeks we haven't played our best, but every game the goalie's done their job and then we've found a way to win some games,'' Koivu said.

Colorado had a season-high, four-game winning streak snapped, losing for the first time since a 7-1 defeat to Calgary on March 7.

``(Theodore) was really good,'' Avalanche captain Joe Sakic said. ``He made some huge saves for them at the end. We had our chances. Everybody worked pretty hard on both sides and unfortunately they won the game.''

Rob Blake and Chris Gratton scored for the Avalanche on assists from Steve Konowalchuk.

Theodore drew a huge cheer when he stopped Colorado's John-Michael Liles following Koivu's goal to protect the lead.

``I felt pretty good tonight and I was just trying to make as many saves as I can,'' Theodore said. ``When I saw that the score was 3-2 for us I knew that we were in a good situation so I just tried to keep it that way.''

It was Montreal's first win over the Avalanche since Dec. 8, 1997, ending an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) against Colorado.

``They're a good transition team and they wait for you to make mistakes in the neutral zone, and they're quick,'' Konowalchuk said. ``I thought it was a pretty good game but the difference was they scored a couple of power-play goals.''

Ryder scored his 22nd goal on a power play 12:25 in when he took a pass from Ribeiro and beat Aebischer from the left edge of the slot.

Perreault, who also assisted on Koivu's goal, made it a two-goal lead 1:42 later, scoring for the third straight game at 14:07.

Blake drew Colorado within 2-1 at 16:54 with a slap shot from the point for his 13th goal.

Gratton combined with linemates Konowalchuk and Matthew Barnaby to finish off a pretty three-way passing play to tie it midway through the second period.

Barnaby set up the play with a pass from the right side to Konowalchuk in front of the net. Konowalchuk quickly fed the puck to Gratton, who scored his 12th of the season _ his first in four games with the Avalanche since he was acquired from Phoenix just before last week's trade deadline.

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