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Flames hang on, down Avs 4-3

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – A visit to the Pepsi Center proved to be just the right tonic for a Calgary team plagued by low offensive output.

The Flames -- the lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference entering Saturday -- matched their season-high goal tally, then held off a furious Colorado Avalanche rally for a 4-3 victory.

The win was the eighth in a row and third this season against the Avalanche, which has lost six of eight home games in 2011-12 and overall has gone 2-6-1 after winning six of its first eight games.

The Flames, who netted four goals combined in their previous four games, built a 4-0 lead midway through the second period. Calgary has outscored Colorado 33-14 during the eight-game streak.

"You're up and you relax a little bit, and it takes a little edge off, and (Colorado) picked it up," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who scored a first-period goal. "They got some great chances and (goalie Miikka Kiprusoff) has been great for us all year and was able to hold the fort."

Colorado turned a 3-0 deficit on Thursday into a 4-3 overtime win against the New York Islanders, and again roared back Saturday, closing to within 4-3 on goals by Milan Hejduk, Matt Duchene and David Jones.

"We can't expect to keep coming back when we get down a few goals," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It's not going to be like that every night. As much as I liked our resiliency and our no-quit attitude, we can't dig ourselves a hole like that and expect that we're going to come back every game. We've just got to find a way to improve our home record. It's tough to play catch-up hockey."

The Avalanche's top-ranked power play -- Colorado is converting at a rate of 27.1 percent -- went on four man-advantages in the third period but couldn't convert any of them. That included a six-on-four advantage – goalie Semyon Varlamov pulled for an attacker and Olli Jokinen in the box for delay of game – for the final 1:35.

"They pulled their goalie and we were just fighting to get the puck out," Kiprusoff said. "Unfortunately, (there was) an unlucky penalty there, too. But we were able to hang in there and we were able to take a huge two points."

Sacco said the Avalanche simply did not take advantage of all the power plays, three of which came in quick succession after Duchene scored.

"We weren't good enough on those power plays," Sacco said. "Our power play's been very good this year and tonight we just weren't sharp. Give Calgary credit because they made an adjustment and they came at us hard on those penalty kills, but we've got to be ready for that. I don't even know if we generated many chances on those power plays. That's the way it goes."

Kiprusoff was under siege for most of the third period, when the Avalanche enjoyed a 16-4 advantage in shots. The final shot count was 39-20 in Colorado's favor.    

"It was a back-to-back game and we had a great start," said Kiprusoff, referring to Calgary's 4-1 loss in Chicago on Friday. "Sometimes it is hard to get your head into the game when you play the night before, but we were ready. They came hard, lots of traffic, and we were able to keep that one-goal lead."    

It looked like the Flames would skate to an easy victory after scoring on their first two shots – and three of their first six – to build a 3-0 lead in the opening period.

"I thought we were moving the puck as well as we could have moved the puck, and we were skating very well," Iginla said. "We had a good period, a good first half (of the game) and they shifted. All of a sudden they were skating more. They just turned it and got us in penalty trouble and it got a lot closer than we probably would have liked."

Rookie Paul Byron, who made his season debut Friday in Chicago after being summoned from Abbotsford in the AHL, opened the scoring at 2:06. Derek Smith skated down the left wing and passed to Byron, who moved down the middle ahead of the Avalanche defense and sent the puck past Varlamov for his second career goal.

Iginla collected his 488th career goal at 5:47 when he beat Varlamov to the short side after Alex Tanguay's pass bounced off the stick of Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson.

Four seconds after the Avalanche finished killing off a hooking penalty to Gabriel Landeskog, Curtis Glencross scored at 14:11 by firing the puck past Varlamov's glove.

Little could the Flames have known that Lee Stempniak's goal at 9:36 of the second period would prove to be the winner. He skated from behind the Avalanche net with defenseman Jan Hejda in pursuit, curled into the right circle and slipped a back-handed shot past Varlamov.

The Avalanche got on the board at 13:16 when Hejduk took a shot from the left circle. The puck hit Kiprusoff's glove, popped in the air and dropped across the goal line. Third-period goals by Duchene at the 26-second mark and David Jones with 4:35 remaining were as close as Colorado would come.

"You can't spot a team four goals," Avalanche defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "We almost came back, but at the same time you can't spot a team four goals like that. (The Flames) thrive on shutting teams down. They're a veteran team that knows how to play the right way."
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