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Iginla, Varlamov key Avalanche win against Senators

by Rick Sadowski /

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche didn't play up to their expectations in the first half of the season, but believe they can make a run in the second half at a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jarome Iginla scored two goals and goalie Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves and the Avalanche defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 at Pepsi Center on Thursday for their fourth win in the past five games.

The Avalanche (17-16-8) are 8-3-2 in their past 13 games, and 9-0-0 when they score four or more non-shootout goals. They moved within five points of the Winnipeg Jets, who hold the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

The Senators (16-16-8) are 0-1-1 in the first two games of their four-game road trip.

"We've been battling for a while and the last 10-11 games it feels like we're starting to build some momentum and guys are starting to feel better," said Iginla, who has 572 NHL goals, one behind Mike Bossy for 20th place on the all-time scoring list. "That's the end of the first half and we've given ourselves a chance to keep climbing into the playoff race. We think we can do that. We've been through some tough times this year and it's starting to really come for us."

Varlamov wasn't as busy as he was Tuesday when he made 54 saves in a 2-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, but Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said he was the team's best player.

"He is bringing a lot of confidence to the team, he's sharp, he's moving well, he sees the puck," Roy said. "We're going to have to play better in front of him. I like the fact that we're winning hockey games. The last two games, I'll admit it, we didn't play well enough defensively. The last couple games I think we could play a lot better."

The Avalanche took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Iginla and Brad Stuart.

Iginla took a pass from Alex Tanguay in the right circle and beat Craig Anderson to the short side at 8:20. Stuart scored his first goal as a member of the Avalanche at 17:20 after Matt Duchene won a faceoff in the left circle.

"When we score first, we play so much better," Varlamov said. "The goals give us huge confidence and then we play with confidence the rest of the game. I feel good. It’s been a tough schedule since Christmas, we’ve been playing every second day. I think a lot of teams are in the same situation like us so we just need to prepare ourselves to play every game and be ready to play mental and physical.”

Mark Stone cut the Ottawa deficit to 2-1 at 3:03 of the second period when he skated through the slot, took a pass from defenseman Erik Karlsson and shot the puck by Varlamov's right arm.

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson scored his career-high 11th goal 53 seconds later to give the Avalanche a 3-1 lead. He skated across the blue line, took a pass from forward Ryan O'Reilly and put a shot behind Anderson, who was screened on the play by Iginla.

"Establishing a new high in goals means a lot to me, especially to do it in Colorado," said Johnson, who had 10 goals with the St. Louis Blues in 2009-10. "I'm not satisfied, I want to keep going and help the team keep winning."

Anderson was replaced by Robin Lehner after allowing three goals on nine shots.

"We're all human, we all make mistakes," Anderson said. "You're not going to be at your best every single night. Clearly I wasn't at my best. It happens. They made good on the chances they had."

Iginla gave the Avalanche a 4-1 lead 23 seconds into the third period during a power play. Tanguay, who had two assists to reach 800 career points, passed through the slot to Iginla on the right side.

"I wish I would have gotten there a little sooner," Tanguay, who missed most of last season because of injuries, said of his milestone. "I've still got more in me."

Forward Bobby Ryan drew the Senators within 4-2 at 1:05 when he intercepted Johnson's pass at the side of Varlamov's crease and swept the puck into the net.

"I'll make that play nine out of 10 times," Johnson said. "A nice backhander to the middle, it's a play we practice a lot. It won't be my first pizza and it won't be my last pizza. It's just one of those plays where Bobby made a good play and I'll hear about it on the golf course this summer from him."

The Avalanche responded at 2:40. Defenseman Tyson Barrie sent a long pass to Daniel Briere, who scored from the right circle for a 5-2 lead.

"Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due, and Varlamov was very good tonight, very good," Senators coach Dave Cameron said. "But we didn't make it hard enough for him. He saw too many shots. The key was we had to get someone out there to get in his way in front of the net and we didn't do that.

"Just put your head down and get to the net. It hasn't been a matter of not having enough good offense, it's just a matter of getting dirty, getting in there and getting different shots, getting sticks on pucks. I need some of my bigger guys to play bigger."

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