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Colorado Avalanche 3, Dallas Stars 2 FINAL OT

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DENVER (AP) _ Colorado Avalanche rookie Marek Svatos dazzled coaches and teammates throughout training camp with his quickness and poise.

A six-month layoff has done nothing to slow him down.

Despite missing most of the regular season with a shoulder injury, Svatos has played a starring role in a series that includes big-name players like Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Mike Modano.

``He has that breakaway speed and can make something out of nothing,'' Avalanche forward Steve Konowalchuk said Thursday. ``You're kind of born with that. That's his kind of game and he has that kind of poise. You don't teach that.''

With an assist in each of the first two games against Dallas and the game-winning goal in Colorado's 3-2 double-overtime victory Wednesday, Svatos has helped the Avalanche to a 3-1 series lead, with a chance to clinch it Saturday at home.

Not bad for a player few outside the Avalanche organization had heard of before this series.

``We didn't know much about him, but after the first game, we knew he was a player,'' Stars forward Bill Guerin said. ``He's a gifted kid.''

After leaving Slovakia at 18, Svatos scored 61 goals in 92 games in major junior hockey in British Columbia. The Avalanche took notice and selected him in the eighth round of the 2001 draft.

But Svatos couldn't stay on the ice long enough to have much of an impact. He had nine goals and four assists in 30 games in his first year with Hershey, Colorado's AHL affiliate, but had his season wiped out by shoulder surgery after separating his shoulder three times in three weeks.

Svatos impressed Colorado's coaches enough to make the team out of training camp, but played just two games before hurting his shoulder again. That led to his third surgery in three years and a 78-game layoff.

No matter.

Svatos picked up where he left off, scoring two goals against Columbus in his first game back and earning a spot on Colorado's playoff roster.

``Obviously, coming here (in a trade) I had no idea _ hadn't seen him, never heard about him,'' Konowalchuk said. ``As soon as he came back from the shoulder injury, I walked into practice and was like, man, this kid's got some really good skill.''

In Colorado's 3-1 victory in Game 1, Svatos used a cross-ice pass to set up the game's first goal. He also assisted on the game-sealing goal in Colorado's 5-2 victory in Game 2.

Svatos topped both of those feats in Game 4 with his first career playoff goal, weaving through traffic and holding the puck until he got an open shot. He beat Dallas goalie Marty Turco on the glove side, giving the Avalanche a comfortable two-game lead in the series.

``I didn't have much room to shoot at, so I just tried to get as good a shot as I could,'' Svatos said. ``It was great to see it hit the net.''

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